NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The number of weekly unemployment claims filed in the U.S. dropped unexpectedly, according to the Labor Department's report Thursday, marking the third straight week of declines.

Doubtless, many will interpret the numbers as yet another indication that companies are easing back on the cost-cutting, job-slashing throttle as the economy broaches recovery.

Freshly laid-off people applying for benefits fell to a seasonally adjusted 530,000 for the week, down from last week's 551,000, which the Labor Department revised upward. Economists on average were expecting jobless claims to increase by 5,000.

The four-week average, which serves to level volatile week-to-week gyrations, fell to 553,500, the Labor Department said. Not since January has the government reported a number that low.

In normal times, however, a growing economy would produce about 325,000 claims a week, well below the current figures.

Meanwhile, the job-cut announcements keep rolling in from corporate America. According to


layoff ticker, as of the end of last week, the 500 largest public companies in the U.S. have laid off more than 600,000 people since November.

In the last week,

Eli Lilly

(LLY) - Get Report

said it would lay off 5,500 employees as part of a vast reorganization;


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said it would double the number of planned layoffs to 1,800 from 900;


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said it would shutter a plant, cutting 500 workers loose; and


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, in a continuing payroll-trimming program, pink-slipped 367 workers in Illinois.

-- Written by Scott Eden in New York

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