By Michael Bowman

The number of American workers filing for unemployment benefits dipped again last week, but by a tiny margin that experts say does not signal a strengthening of the U.S. labor market.

Minimal improvement at a glacial pace – that is what the jobless claims numbers suggest.  New claims for unemployment benefits in the United States totaled 444,000 last week, down 4,000 from the previous week.  It was the fourth consecutive week of modest reductions in the number of newly laid-off workers.

Mesirow Financial chief economist Diane Swonk says the numbers are moving in the right direction, but that the pace is too slow.

“The good news is: hiring is picking up,” Swonk said. “Labor markets are healing.  But what these unemployment data – claims data – suggest is [that the improvement is] not fast enough.”

Not fast enough to signal a marked improvement in America’s employment picture.  Last month, the U.S. unemployment rate edged up to 9.9 percent, and many economists expect the jobless rate to hover in that range for months.

April saw U.S. employers add 290,000 new jobs, but that encouraging figure was not enough to offset more than 800,000 people who entered or rejoined the labor market.

Nevertheless, weekly first-time benefits claims are  down significantly from a peak of more than 600,000 recorded at the beginning of last year.  Analysts say a drop below 400,000 would signal robust job creation.

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Malia Zimmerman is the editor and co-founder of Hawaii Reporter. She has worked as a consultant and contributor to several dozen media outlets including ABC 20/20, FOX News, MSNBC, the Wall Street Journal, UPI and the Washington Times. Malia has been listed as one of the nation’s top "Web Proficients, Virtuosi, and Masters" and "Hawaii's new media thought leader" by http://www.thewebstersdictionary.com Reach her at Malia@hawaiireporter.com