The end of April saw the fewer workers getting unemployment benefits than anytime in the last 28 years, the Department of Labor reported Thursday in a sign of the labor market's increasing health.

Just 1.9 million people received unemployment insurance benefits at the end of the month, the fewest since 1988. Benefits are available for up to 26 weeks in most states.

Even more engouraging: Averaging over the past four weeks, total unemployment benefit claims are running at the lowest rate since 1974, despite the workforce being 75 percent bigger.

Thursday's report also showed new jobless claims dropping to 236,000 in the first week of May, an extremely low level.

Forecasters had expected 244,000 new jobless claims, which are adjusted for seasonal variations.

Low jobless claims are a good sign. If fewer workers are going to state unemployment agencies to collect benefits, that indicates that layoffs are scarce. Because the claims numbers are released weekly, the provide a near-real-time gauge of the health of the jobs market for investors and government officials.

Thursday's report suggests that more robust jobs reports may be in store.

Economists calculate that jobless claims below the 300,000 mark go along with stable or falling unemployment. At 4.4 percent in April, the unemployment rate is already below where Federal Reserve officials thought it would go if the economy were fully healthy, hinting that there is still scope for improvement for U.S. workers.