The number of people filing new claims for state unemployment benefits fell for a second consecutive week last week, the U.S. government reported Thursday, indicating that layoffs are low and suggesting that labor-market conditions will steadily improve.The Labor Department said initial jobless claims fell 2,000 to 339,000 last week. The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor trends, rose 8,500 to 357,250, driven higher in recent weeks by spikes that reflected seasonal volatility around year-end holidays.The report showed the number of Americans still receiving benefits under regular state unemployment programs fell 98,000 to 2.83 million last week. With jobless benefits for more than 1 million long-term unemployed having expired on December 28, that figure is set to drop sharply in coming weeks.Jobless claims are a reflection of layoffs. They appear to have stabilized near pre-recession levels reached in the late summer and are at a level consistent with steady hiring.
The job market has improved in recent months. Employers have added an average of 200,000 jobs per month from August through November, helping to lower the unemployment rate to a 5-year low of 7 percent.