The number of people filing new claims for unemployment benefits was unchanged last week, the U.S. government reported Thursday, suggesting slow improvement in the job market. The Labor Department said initial jobless claims were 374,000 for the second consecutive week. Economists had expected a slight decline. The four-week moving average of jobless claimsâ€”considered a more accurate gauge of employment trendsâ€”rose 1,500 to 370,250. Jobless claims are a measure of the pace of layoffs. When they fall consistently below 375,000, it typically indicates that hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate, currently at 8.3 percent. Jobless claims have risen slightly over the past three weeks, suggesting some slowing in the pace of job growth this month after payrolls increased 163,000 in July from 64,000 in June. Still, claims are lower than they were six weeks ago, raising hopes for a solid gain when the government releases its August jobs report next week. The state of the labor market, particularly the unemployment rate, could determine whether President Barack Obama is re-elected in November. The unemployment rate has been stuck above 8 percent for more than three years, the first time that has happened since the Great Depression in the 1930s.