First time claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 34,000 to a seasonally-adjusted 601,000 in the week ending May 2, marking the lowest level recorded since late January, the U.S. Labor Department said today. "The evidence is growing that the recession may be bottoming out in the second quarter," wrote analysts at RDQ Economics in a research note. "Companies may have begun to slow the rate of layoffs, but there is no evidence here that the pace of hiring has picked up." The total number of people who remained on the benefits roll in the reported week after collecting at least one week of aid increased 56,000 to 6.35m -- hitting another record high. The ever-increasing number of ongoing claims accentuates the struggle Americans face in finding jobs amid an environment where companies are forced to cut costs time and time again. The insured unemployment rate for the week -- the proportion of covered workers who are receiving benefits -- also rose, from 4.7% to 4.8%, the highest level seen since December 1982. Nonetheless, the four week moving average of initial claims, which can smooth volatility in employment trends, continued to fall, dropping 14,750 to 623,500. The largest increases in initial claims were seen in Michigan -- where 9,998 people filed a claim, according to the department's most recent data -- Massachusetts, Kentucky, North Carolina and New York. Analysts saw the largest decreases in initial claims in California -- where claims dropped 10,833 -- Georgia, South Carolina, Wisconsin and New Jersey. Write to Kelly Curran.