The number of people filing for unemployment benefits fell for the first time in a month, with initial claims falling 6.1% for the week ending Aug. 21. The decline exceeded analysts’ expectations; most consensus estimates had projected a slight decrease from the prior week, when about half a million people filed initial unemployment claims. The Labor Department said Thursday that seasonally-adjusted initial claims slid to 473,000 last week, down from an upwardly revised 504,000 for the previous week. consensus had expected claims to drop to 485,000. Despite the weekly drop, the four-week moving average rose by 3,250 to 486,750 claims, up less than 1% from the prior week's revised average of 483,500. The four-week average, largely seen as a more stable indicator of employment trends, is now at its highest level since December of last year. Since the middle of November 2009, initial jobless claims have held in between the 450,000 and 500,000 level, with minimal payroll growth. Most economists tend to see weekly claims north of 500,000 as a recessionary indicator. Continuing claims dropped from 4.52 million the week ending Aug. 7 to 4.46 million for the week ending Aug. 14, slightly overshooting expecations. consensus had pegged continuing claims at 4.515 million. The four-week moving average of continuing claims fell by 28,000 to 4.51 million, as a result. More than 7 million jobs were lost during the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008, and the nation's jobless rate has remained stubbornly high in the face of a tepid economic recovery. Ongoing difficulties with employment have become a political flash point as elections loom later this year, with Republicans recently accusing Democratic economic leaders of failing to create enough jobs. -- Paul Jackson contributed to this story. Write to Jason Philyaw.