The number of American citizens initially applying for unemployment aid declined last week for the third consecutive week, the U. S. Labor Department reported Thursday. The advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims for jobless benefits was 355,000 in the week ending Nov. 3, down 8,000 from the previous week\'s unrevised figure. The continuous downward trend in the past several weeks showed that the labor market had been making steady progress. But a Labor Department spokesman cautioned that claims may jump back in the next three to four weeks as Hurricane Sandy suppressed the application filings. The four-week moving average, which helps smooth out week-to-week volatility, climbed to 370,500, an increase of 3,250 from the previous week\'s revised figure. It was still in line with modest hiring. The number of jobless claims below 375,000 generally indicates a sustained drop in the unemployment rate. The U.S. jobless rate rose to 7.9 percent in October, slightly over the level when President Barack Obama took office in 2009. In addition, the report showed the advance figure for seasonally adjusted insured unemployment during the week ending Oct. 27 was 3.127 million, a decrease of 135,000 from the prior week. To boost the anemic economic growth and labor market, the U.S. Federal Reserve announced in September it would expand its holdings of mortgage debt until the labor market improved significantly. But the cooling global economy and concerns over a U.S. fiscal cliff is still dampening the employment outlook.