WASHINGTON -- Initial jobless claims dropped slightly more than expected last week, to near a more than five-year low, the Labor Department said Thursday.

The new data indicate continued moderate growth in the labor market as the government prepares to release its August jobs report next week.

The number of people filing for first-time unemployment benefits fell to a seasonally adjusted 331,000 last week from the previous week's revised figure of 337,000.

Analysts had expected the number to drop to 332,000.

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Jobless claims reached their post-Great Recession low of 322,000 the week ending Aug. 10.

The four-week average, which smoothes out some of the data's volatility, rose to 331,250. That was up from the previous week's level of 330,500, which was the lowest since November 2007.

Jobless claims have been hovering around 330,000 for about a month, part of a downward trend this year that has been consistent with monthly job growth of about 200,000.

Federal Reserve policymakers are watching economic reports closely as the summer comes to an end to determine if they should start reducing their stimulus efforts at their scheduled Sept. 17-18 meeting.

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