WASHINGTON ( TheStreet) -- The number of unemployed who signed up for jobless benefits for the first time edged lower last week, according to the government.

The Labor Department said Thursday that initial jobless claims fell by 14,000 to a seasonally adjusted 442,000 for the week ended March 20. Street consensus called for initial claims to drop to 450,000 from the prior week's pre-revised 457,000 total, according to Briefing.com.

The fall in initial claims also corresponds to a broader trend that's found the metric inching lower in recent weeks after rising subtly higher in the weeks before.

"The initial claims number, obviously, was good," said Mike Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan. "We're back to where we were before we had a rude interruption there, in a decline."

"I would expect claims to continue moving down from here," he added "If the recovery is to continue, you want to see claims going down below 400,000 and maybe even 300,000."

The four-week moving average for initial claims, which gives a broader picture of the data beyond the tumultuous weekly fluctuations, also went lower by 11,000 to 453,750.

Applicants also re-upped their unemployment insurance in fewer numbers, as continuing claims fell by 54,000 to 4.648 million for the week ending March 13, according to the report. But in a mild disappointment, the data from the week before was revised higher, with continuing claims jumping to 4.702 million from an originally reported 4.579 million.

The department also said the figures are the first to reflect an annual revision to the group's seasonal adjustment factors.

Though steep, the stabilizing claims data is adding to a sense that the labor market is steadying. But outright jobs creation remains elusive. The market will get another peek at the nation's unemployment picture next week when the government releases its March jobs report.

If early forecasts are to be believed, the labor market may be turning a corner. The Street is currently estimating that employers added about 200,000 jobs during the month, while the nation's unemployment rate held steady at 9.7%. But how much of those additional jobs will come from a pick-up in census hiring and weather-related factors remains to be seen.

Stocks opened higher after release of the report, with the Dow recently adding 71 points, or 0.7%, to 10,907 and the S&P 500 gaining 8 points, or 0.7%, to 1,176.

-- Written by Sung Moss in New York