1838048_FI_jobsfair__

Initial jobless claims fell last week after climbing for three weeks. Above, job seekers gather at a career fair in Carson last week. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times / April 16, 2014)

Initial jobless claims fell last week, a welcoming sign for the labor market after a few weeks where applications inched up.

The number of first-time claims for unemployment benefits dropped to 319,000 last week, a decrease of 26,000 from the week before, the Labor Department said Thursday. The drop broke three straight-weeks of increases in claims.

The four-week average, which is a less volatile barometer, rose by 4,500 last week to 324,750.

Jobless claims are unpredictable around this time of year, experts said.

Spring break at schools can bring a rise in claims because contract workers in some states are allowed to file for temporary benefits during that time. The recent Easter and Passover holidays can also affect data crunchers' ability to adjust for seasonal changes.

Economists said that job creation should climb when the weather warms up as businesses try to make up for a slowdown during a harsh winter.

The U.S. economy added 288,000 net new jobs in April, the best performance since January 2012, the Labor Department said last week. The numbers for February and March were also revised upward, pushing up the average monthly new jobs created to 214,000 this year.

The unemployment rate in April also fell to 6.3%, the lowest level since September 2008.