JOB CLAIMS DIP: The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell 9,000 to a seasonally adjusted 346,000 last week, evidence that the job market is still improving modestly.

JOB CLAIMS DIP: The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell 9,000 to a seasonally adjusted 346,000 last week, evidence that the job market is still improving modestly.

LONGER VIEW: The four-week average, a less volatile figure, declined 2,750 to 345,750, the Labor Department said Thursday. That's near the five-year low of 338,000 that the average touched last month.

WHY IT MATTERS: Applications are a proxy for layoffs. Steady job gains could help the economy expand later this year. Growth was only 1.8 percent at an annual rate in the first quarter, down from a previous estimate of 2.4 percent.