The Labor Department says weekly applications for benefits fell 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 331,000. The four week average, a less volatile measure, inched up 750 to 331,250 after reaching a 5½-year low the previous week.
Applications for unemployment benefits reflect layoffs. At the depths of the recession in March 2009, they numbered 670,000. The average has fallen 10 percent this year.
Though employers are cutting few jobs, most have yet to start hiring aggressively.
Employers have added an average of 192,000 jobs a month since January. That's enough to gradually lower the unemployment rate, which fell to 7.4 percent in July.