The U.S. job market is improving as the number of people signing up for unemployment aid dropped to the lowest level since January.

Thursday's report from the Labor Department says 514,000 Americans filed first-time claims for unemployment compensation last week.  The number of people getting long-term jobless compensation dropped below six million for the first time since March.

While the figures are an improvement, they still show a weak overall jobs picture.

High unemployment has hurt family incomes, and that is making it hard for merchants to raise prices.

Government experts say the U.S. cost of living increased just two-tenths of a percent in September, which was less than the price increase the prior month.

Some economists say the relatively tame inflation figures will allow the U.S. central bank to keep interest rates at historic low levels for a while.

The Federal Reserve would fight inflation by raising interest rates.  The U.S. government has raised concerns about possible future inflation by using massive spending programs to boost the economy out of the worst recession in decades. 

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.