The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits dropped last week to 601,000, marking the fourth consecutive week during which first time jobless claims eased, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

Unemployment conditions were most improved in Florida, Illinois, Michigan and California, which saw the largest decreases in initial jobless claims. In contrast, the largest increases in initial claims were seen in Connecticut, Louisiana, Tennessee and Arizona.

The four week moving average of initial claims across the US — which can smooth volatility in employment trends — dropped, from 632,250 to 621,750 in the reported week.

However, the total number of people who remained on the benefits roll after collecting at least one week of aid hit yet another record high, climbing 59,000 to a seasonally-adjusted 6.82m.

It was the 19th week in a row where continued claims set a record.

“The labor market is in a situation where you are not seeing a lot of hiring, but the pace of firing is slowing down,” Nick Kalivas, vice president of financial research at MF Global, told Reuters. “This is probably consistent with continued increase in the unemployment rate.”

Still, despite ongoing unemployment, the slowdown in the pace of layoffs might be boosting moral across the US. A survey by the University of Michigan and Reuters shows US consumer sentiment sits at its highest level in nine months, indicating a return of consumer confidence to the marketplace.

The index’s gauge of current conditions, which reflects Americans’ perceptions of their financial situation today, also rose from 67.7 in May  to 74.5 in June, the highest reading since September.

A New Initiative

The Treasury Department announced today $25bn in bonds authority available under the Recovery Zone Bonds program. The initiative, created by the Recovery Act, aims to help areas particularly affected by job loss. It helps local governments obtain financing for economic development projects, such as job training and educational programs, for example.

“Creating the conditions for economic recovery requires addressing the challenges facing state and local governments,” said Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in a press statement. “State budgets have been scaled back and local service cut at a time when they are most needed.”

Geithner says financing tools provided by Recovery Zone Bonds will help state and local governments obtain the funds needed to revitalize communities, and in turn, aid those citizens affected by job loss.

Write to Kelly Curran.

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