The U.S. job market improved slightly last week, with fewer Americans signing up for unemployment compensation.
Thursday's report from the Labor Department of new unemployment claims fell 9,000 to a nationwide total of 397,000. The lower total reflects fewer layoffs, which are a step toward lowering the relatively high U.S. unemployment rate.
Economists surveyed by news agencies predict the jobless rate will remain at 9.1 percent when the newest unemployment data is published on Friday. Those experts also predict the U.S. economy will have a net gain of around 95,000 jobs.
U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has said the job market and U.S. economic growth are improving, but at a "frustratingly slow" rate.
A separate report showed U.S. workers grew more productive in July, August and September. It is the first quarterly gain in the amount of output per worker, per hour, in a year. Labor costs dropped somewhat during the same period.
Higher productivity allows companies to raise wages without sparking inflation.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.