New claims for US unemployment benefits fell last week, hovering at four-year lows as the ailing labor continues to mend, government data showed Thursday.

The Labor Department reported 357,000 initial jobless claims were filed in the week ending March 31, the lowest level since April 2008.

It was a decrease of 6,000 from the prior week's upwardly revised 363,000. But analysts had expected a sharper fall, to 355,000 claims.

The four-week moving average of claims also fell, by 4,250 to 366,000.

The seasonally adjusted initial jobless claims figures, signaling the pace of layoffs, have been trending downward for months as the job market slowly improves.

The unemployment rate, which stood at 9.1 percent in August, was 8.3 percent in February for the second consecutive month.

Most analysts expect the jobless rate held steady at 8.3 percent in March, according to the average estimate for Friday's keenly awaited official labor report.