The number of American workers making first-time claims for unemployment compensation has fallen to a near six-year low.  

The U.S. government said Thursday that 320,000 workers filed for jobless benefits last week, down 15,000 from the previous week. It was the lowest total since October 2007.

Unemployment compensation claims indicate that employers are laying off fewer workers. Hiring in the world's largest economy has been sluggish, though, with an average of 192,000 jobs a month added this year.

The new jobs helped push the U.S. unemployment rate down to 7.4 percent in July, the lowest figure in almost five years. But the jobless rate remains well above the historical average of between 5 and 6 percent.

In a separate report, the Labor Department said U.S. consumer prices increased a modest two-tenths of a percent in July. In the past year, the country's consumer price index has edged up 2 percent, suggesting little inflationary pressure on the economy.

Policy makers at the U.S. central bank, the Federal Reserve, are watching both the employment and inflation numbers before deciding whether to curtail their monthly purchase of securities they have been making to pump more money into the economy.

Key U.S. stock indexes dropped more than 1 percent Thursday after the favorable jobless compensation figures were released. Analysts said investors sold stocks on fears that the Fed might soon cut back on its stimulus measures.