The economy, hobbled by higher fuel and food prices, tighter credit and a depressed housing market, is limping along at a snail's pace, a private business group said Thursday.

Separately, the number of newly laid-off workers filing for unemployment benefits remained at worrisomely high levels, even as it dropped slightly last week.

The New York-based Conference Board said Thursday its economic indicators rose 0.1 percent in May, matching expectations of economists surveyed by Thomson/IFR. The increase in the indicators, a measure of future economic activity, equaled April's 0.1 percent advance. The Conference Board revised March's number down from 0.1 to zero. The index is designed to forecast economic activity in the next three to six months.

"The economy is very weak heading into the summer, with gas and utility bills possibly heading even higher," said Ken Goldstein, Conference Board economist.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that jobless claims fell by 5,000 last week to 381,000 after having surged by 27,000 the previous week.

The nation's unemployment rate soared to 5.5 percent in May, up from 5 percent it April. That represented the biggest one-month jump in 22 years and served as a stark reminder of the pressures the labor market is facing from the weak economy.