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Retail sales rose a moderate 0.2 percent in March, rebounding from their biggest decline in more than a year but still a sign that economic growth is slowing.

The Commerce Department also said Thursday that sales fell more sharply in February than previously estimated. They were off a full 1 percent then, revised from an earlier reported 0.4 percent decline.Analysts expected a modest recovery for sales last month and said their slower pace this year signals an overall slowdown in the economy.

Bolstering that assessment, the Labor Department reported Thurs-day that the number of new claims for jobless benefits fell by 4,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 338,000.

The Commerce Department said sales in the first quarter of 1995 were 5.9 percent higher than in the same period a year earlier.

The February drop in sales had been the first since they fell 0.2 percent last May and was the largest decline since a 1 percent drop in January 1994.