WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of people applying for U.S. unemployment benefits ticked down last week following a sharp drop the previous week.
Applications are falling again after rising for most of April, suggesting hiring could pick up this month.
Weekly applications dropped 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 367,000 in the week ending May 5, the Labor Department said Thursday. The previous week’s figure was revised up slightly.
The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell by 5,250 to 379,000. It was the first decline since late March.
Applications are a measure of the pace of layoffs. When they stay consistently below 375,000, it suggests job growth is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.
The April spike in applications coincided with weaker hiring this spring. Employers added an average of 135,000 jobs per month in March and April -- well below the pace from the previous three months. That raised fears that the job market is sputtering.
Dan Greenhaus, an analyst at BTIG, an institutional brokerage firm, said temporary layoffs stemming from spring holidays likely pushed claims higher in April. If applications stay where they are or fall further, Greenhaus predicts hiring will rise to healthier levels of between 150,000 and 200,000 new jobs each month.
A jump in job openings also points toward stronger hiring in the coming months. Em ploy ers advertised 3.74 million job openings in March, the most since July 2008. It usually takes one to three months for employers to fill openings.
From December through February, employers had created an average 252,000 jobs a month. That was the best three months of job growth since the recession ended in June 2009, not counting months thrown off by the hiring of temporary census workers in 2010.
The recent jobs picture has been clouded by an unseasonably warm winter. That allowed construction firms and other companies to hire earlier than usual, effectively stealing jobs from the spring. Econo mists are puzzling out how much of the slower hiring was weather-related payback and how much reflects economic weakness.