WASHINGTON — New claims for unemployment benefits fell for the third week running to their lowest level since April, suggesting improved health in the troubled US job market, official data showed Thursday.

Initial US jobless claims fell to 388,000 in the week ending November 12, the Labor Department said. The previous week's number was revised to 393,000 from 390,000.

The four-week moving average, which helps to smooth out week-to-week volatility, confirmed the downward trend, falling by 4,000 to 396,750.

Despite the better run of weekly jobless claims, the world's largest economy is too sluggish to significantly make a dent in high unemployment, currently at 9.0 percent.

Since May 2009 the jobless rate has been stuck at that level or higher, except for two months this year, in February and March.

And market turmoil over the eurozone debt crisis and political gridlock in Washington over the nation's yawning debt and deficits have contributed to employers' reluctance to take on new employees.

However, the latest jobless claims numbers could signal that layoffs are easing.

"The evidence continues to grow that economic activity is firming in the fourth quarter," RDQ Economics analysts said.