When the economic recovery officially began in June 2009, an average of roughly 600,000 people were filing first-time claims for benefits each week. For nearly a year, that figure has remained consistently below 400,000.
But the decline hasn't correlated with robust job growth, as it did in past economic recoveries. Many economists say they're not ready to predict a strengthening job market.
"We're going to wait for some corroborating data," said Dan Greenhaus, chief market strategist at BTIG LLC.
The number of people who continue to receive unemployment benefits has fallen. Slightly more than 5 million Americans received benefits in the week that ended Sept. 22, the latest period for which figures are available. That's down about 44,000 from the previous week.
But some people who no longer receive aid have likely used up all the benefits available to them.
The 114,000 jobs employers added in September are roughly enough to keep pace with population growth. They aren't enough, though, to provide work for the more than 12 million unemployed Americans.
And most of the job increases last month came from those who had to settle for part-time work: In September, 582,000 more people than in August said they were working part-time but wanted full-time jobs.
The economy did gain an average of 146,000 jobs a month in the July-September quarter â¿¿ more than twice the monthly pace in the April-June quarter.
Still, another government report this week added to signs that hiring will likely remain modest: Employers advertised slightly fewer open jobs in August than in July. It was the second straight monthly drop. And the number of posted openings was the fewest since April.
A major problem is the U.S. economy isn't growing fast enough to generate significant hiring. Economic growth slowed to a tepid annual rate of 1.3 percent in the April-June quarter. That was down from a 2 percent annual rate in the previous quarter.