Initial jobless claims fell 1.8% to 331,000 for the week ending Aug. 24, according to a Labor Department report released today.

After increasing a revised 4.3% the previous week, this newest report puts claims back on a downward trend, despite missing analysts' expectations by 1,000 claims. The consensus estimates was for 330,000 claims. 

Source: Author, data from Labor Department. 

From a more long-term perspective, the lingering effect of the previous week's jump could be felt in this report via a 0.2% increase in the four-week moving average to 331,250 initial claims. Still, both the latest week's claims and the four-week average fall significantly below 400,000, a cutoff point that economists consider a sign of an improving labor market.

On a state-by-state basis, only North Carolina recorded a decrease of more than 1,000 initial claims for the week ending Aug. 17 (most recent available data). The Tarheel state pointed to fewer layoffs in food services and manufacturing as the main pull behind its 1,020-initial-claim decrease. 

For the same period, California and Missouri registered increases of more than 1,000 initial claims. Services layoffs helped push California's claims up 5,870, while manufacturing was the main culprit behind a 1,760 uptick in Missouri's numbers.

All told, nearly 4.5 million people received unemployment benefits in the week that ended Aug. 10, the latest period for which figures are available. That's about 30,000 more than in the previous week. Employers have added an average of 192,000 jobs a month since January. That's enough to gradually lower the unemployment rate, which fell to 7.4% in July.

-- Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.