WASHINGTON — The number of people applying for initial state unemployment insurance benefits fell 11,000 to 457,000 in the week ended July 24, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had expected an initial claims level of 460,000. The four-week average of initial claims — a better gauge of employment trends than the volatile weekly number — fell 4,500 to 452,500, reaching the lowest level since May.

Seasonal adjustment problems have caused recent volatility in the data.

However, “claims appear to have reverted to their downward trend after the volatility observed during the previous two weeks,” wrote analysts at Barclays Capital Research in a research note.

The initial claims level for the week ended July 17 was revised 4,000 higher to 468,000.

Continuing claims in the week ended July 17 rose 81,000 to 4.57 million. The four-week average of these continuing claims fell 18,000 to 4.55 million, hitting the lowest level since late December 2008.

Initial state claims are about 21 percent below the prior’s year level. The level of continuing claims is about 26 percent less than in the prior year.

The claims data measure the number of workers who lost their jobs through no fault of their own and were eligible for unemployment benefits.