Initial claims for unemployment benefits last week dropped 18,000 to a preliminary reading of 324,000, a more than five-year low. The four-week moving average, a less volatile number that flattens out week-to-week fluctuations in the data, was 342,250, a decrease of 16,000 from the previous week, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The weekly jobless claims report is an indication of layoffs. Last week’s data was better than economists expected. Fewer claims for unemployment benefits suggests that companies are maintaining staff levels. The advance number of Americans filing for continuing unemployment claims during the week ending April 20 was 3,019,000, an increase of 12,000 from the prior week. The four-week moving average was 3,055,500, a decrease of 18,000 from the preceding week. States reported 1,777,737 persons 1,790,316 claiming emergency unemployment compensation in the week ending April 13, a decrease of 12,579 from the prior week. There were 2,724,432 claimants in the comparable week in 2012. The total number of people claiming benefits in all programs for the week ending April 13 was 4,963,449, a decrease of 108,631 from the previous week. There were 6,597,715 claimants in the comparable week in 2012. The largest increases in initial claims for unemployment for the week ending April 20 were in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada and Rhode Island. The largest decreases were in California, Indiana, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas.