WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits has fallen to its lowest level since before the recession. A report Thursday should show little change in that trend, a favorable sign for the job market.
Economists forecast that applications rose just 7,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 330,000, according to a survey by FactSet.
The Labor Department will release the report at 8:30 a.m. EDT Thursday.
Two weeks ago, the unemployment aid applications fell to 323,000, the fewest since January 2008. And the less volatile four-week average dropped 6,250 to 336,750. That's the fewest since November 2007, one month before the Great Recession began
Weekly applications are a proxy for layoffs. They have fallen more than 9 percent since November. The decline indicates companies are cutting fewer jobs, which usually leads to more hiring.
The job market has improved over the past six months. The economy has added an average of 208,000 jobs a month since November. That's up from only 138,000 a month in the previous six months.
Still, much of the job gains have come from fewer layoffs — not increased hiring. Layoffs fell in January to the lowest level on records dating back 12 years and have risen only modestly since then. Overall hiring remains far below pre-recession levels.
The unemployment rate has also fallen to a four-year low, although it remains high at 7.5 percent.
Companies may not be confident enough in the economic outlook to rapidly boost hiring. Some businesses may be concerned about the impact of federal spending cuts and tax increases. An increase in Social Security taxes at the beginning of this year could slow consumer spending, which drives nearly two-thirds of economic activity.
Still, consumers may be shrugging off the tax hikes, helped by cheaper gas and steady job gains.
Consumer spending rose from January through March at the fastest rate in more than two years. And Americans boosted their spending at retailers in April, from cars and clothes to electronics and appliances.
Some analysts raised their growth forecasts for the April-June quarter after the April retail sales report. Even so, most expect growth has slowed to an annual rate of around 2 percent, down from the 2.5 percent growth rate reported for the January-March quarter.