More Americans than forecast filed applications for unemployment benefits last week, a sign that the labor market is making progress in fits and starts.

Jobless claims in the week ended Nov. 9 declined 2,000 to 339,000 from a revised 341,000 the week before that was higher than initially reported, the Labor Department said today in Washington. The median forecast of 51 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a drop to 330,000. Applications for five states were estimated because of the Veterans Day holiday- shortened week, the Labor Department said.

Companies, already running lean after the recession, are maintaining their workforces to handle any rise in demand as the economy recovers from last month’s government shutdown. A pick- up in consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy, is needed to help drive growth and boost hiring in the fourth quarter.

“All in all, it’s more of the same in the job market,” Ryan Sweet, senior economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc., said in an interview before the report. “We’re slowly grinding our way higher.”

Economists’ estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from 325,000 to 350,000. The prior week’s claims were revised from an initial reading of 336,000.

Other reports to showed worker productivity grew less than forecast in the third quarter and the trade deficit climbed more than projected in September.

More Productive

The measure of employee output per hour increased at a 1.9 percent annualized rate, after a revised 1.8 percent pace in the prior three months that was lower than last estimated, a Labor Department report showed. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of 59 economists called for a 2.2 percent gain. Expenses per worker dropped at a 0.6 percent rate.

The gap between exports and imports increased 8 percent to $41.8 billion, a four-month high, from $38.7 billion in August, the Commerce Department reported. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of 72 economists called for a $39 billion deficit.

Stock-index futures held earlier gains after the reports. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index maturing in December climbed 0.2 percent to 1,782.6 at 8:33 a.m. in New York after Janet Yellen, President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the Federal Reserve, signaled she plans to continue the central bank’s monetary stimulus.