WASHINGTON (AFP) - New claims for unemployment benefits in the United States posted a bigger drop than expected last week, government data showed Thursday, indicating slow progress to a still troubled labor market. Some 442,000 Americans began claiming benefits in the week to March 20, a decrease of 14,000 from the previous weeks revised figure of 456,000, the Labor Department said. The figure was lower than the 450,000 expected by most analysts. The four-week moving average for the jobless insurance claims, a less volatile indicator than the week-to-week figures, was 453,750, a decrease of 11,000 from the previous week, the department said. The department said although initial claims fell in three of the past four weeks, they were still above the 439,000 level posted early February. The latest data also showed a drop in the total number of Americans receiving unemployment benefits. During the week ending March 13 that figure hit 4.648 million, a decrease of 54,000 from the preceding weeks revised level of 4.702 million. The United States has lost eight million jobs since the economy entered recession in December 2007, with unemployment at 9.7 percent. President Barack Obama signed into law a 17.6-billion-dollar employment boosting package to aid a fragile economy recovery.