Applications for jobless benefits fell by 23,000 to a seasonally adjusted 452,000, the Labor Department said Thursday.
The decline comes after the department substantially revised the previous week's figure to show a rise of 26,000. That was double the increase initially reported. The revision occurred after several states that had estimated their totals from two weeks ago subsequently found that claims were higher than estimated.
The four-week average, a less volatile measure, dropped by 4,250 to 458,000. That's higher than two weeks ago.
Weekly applications for jobless benefits have been stuck for most of this year between 440,000 and 475,000. Sluggish economic growth hasn't been enough to lower the unemployment rate. September's 9.6 percent unemployment rate is only a fraction lower than the 9.7 percent rate in January.
Economists don't expect that will change in the near future.
"The underlying trend in claims still looks resolutely flat, which means we see little chance of any sustained improvement in the private sector payroll numbers any time soon," said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics.
Claims fell steadily last year after the recession ended in June 2009, dropping from roughly 600,000 to about 470,000. But not much progress has been made this year. Economists say that claims need to fall below 425,000 to signal that employers are stepping up hiring.
The number of people continuing to receive jobless aid fell by 9,000 to 4.4 million, the department said. But that doesn't include several million people who are receiving benefits under extended programs approved by Congress.
The number of people on extended benefits rose by about 280,000 to just over 5 million people in the week ending Oct. 2, the latest data available. All told, about 8.8 million people received unemployment aid that week.