WASHINGTON – The number of people who applied last week for new unemployment benefits fell near a five-year low, though the decline probably reflected temporary distortions that often occur after the Easter holiday and not a marked improvement in the U.S. labor market.

Initial jobless claims dropped by 16,000 to a seasonally adjusted 339,000 in the week ended April 20, the Labor Department said Thursday. That’s the second-lowest reading in 2013 and approached levels last seen in January 2008.

Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expected claims to fall to 351,000 from a revised 355,000 in the prior week.