New applications for unemployment benefits fell 8,000 to 237,000 in the first full week of June, the Department of Labor reported Thursday.

Investors had expected 243,000 new jobless claims.

Low jobless claims are a good sign. They indicate that layoffs are relatively rare and that laid-off workers are not showing up at state unemployment agencies to collect benefits.

In recent months, jobless claims have scraped the lowest levels in decades, providing one of the most positive signs of the U.S. economy's health. At a press conference Wednesday, Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen said that the labor market appears to be tight based on a wide range of statistics.

Thursday's report is reassurance that the economy is improving despite the weak reading on economic growth in the first quarter, which showed output growing at just a 1.2 percent annual rate. Investors and the Fed watch jobless claims numbers closely because they are released weekly, providing a real-time gauge of the labor market's health.

Over the past month, average weekly new claims have have clocked in at 243,000, a rate not seen since the early 1970s, when the workforce was much smaller and there were far fewer people who could even conceivably be laid off.

Economists calculate that any new claims number below 300,000 signifies that unemployment will remain steady or drop. At 4.3 percent in May, unemployment is already low.

In most states, workers can receive unemployment benefits for up to 26 weeks. The total number of people receiving benefits of all durations is running at 1.93 million, also a rate note seen since the early 1970s. In comparison, up to 6.5 million people were on unemployment benefits during the worst of the recession.