The number of people filing initial applications for U.S. state unemployment benefits fell last week, the government reported Thursday, adding to signs of a strengthening labor market.
The Labor Department said jobless claims fell 4,000 last week to 294,000. Claims have been hovering in a tight range, which is typical around the year-end holiday period, and are at a level consistent with a steadily improving labor market. At current levels, claims probably have little room to fall further, economists say.
The four-week moving average of jobless claims - considered a better measure of labor-market trends because it smoothes weekly volatility - fell 250 to 290,500. The gauge has plunged 16 percent in the past 12 months, and has remained below the historically low 300,000 level for 17 consecutive weeks.
Jobless claims are a measure of layoffs. As fewer workers lose their jobs, employers are adding new employees to meet customer demand.
In the monthly jobs report being released Friday, employers are expected to have added 243,000 jobs in December, which would follow job gains of 321,000 in November and put total job growth in 2014 at nearly 3 million, the best annual performance since 1999. The unemployment rate has fallen to 5.8 percent from 6.7 percent at the beginning of 2014.