Initial jobless claims fell back below 300,000 last week as companies sharply reduced planned layoffs in November in a positive sign for the labor market ahead of the monthly jobs report.
About 297,000 applied for first-time unemployment benefits, down 17,000 from the previous week's revised level, the Labor Department said Thursday.
The figure, which was in line with analyst expectations, remained above the post-Great Recession low of 266,000 reached in October.
The less-volatile four-week average was 299,000, up 4,750 from the previous week. Economists say weekly claims below 300,000 are a sign of a healthy job market.
Claims had been below 300,000 each week since early September before unexpectedly jumping to 314,000 in the week ended Nov. 22.
"There are no downside risks to the economic outlook in the U.S. if the weekly jobless claims are to be believed," said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at Union Bank in New York.
"The labor market is running full-out and new jobs creation has rarely been better," he said.
Companies announced 35,940 planned job cuts in November, down 30% from the previous month, career counseling firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. said Thursday.
The drop came after planned layoffs had surged in October in what now looks like an anomaly.
Through Nov. 30, employers had announced 450,531 job cuts, down 5.8% from the same period last year, Challenger said. So far, 2014 is on pace to have the fewest private-sector job cuts since 1997.
Thursday's reports, along with other recent government and private data, indicate job growth was solid in November.
The Labor Department is expected to report Friday that the economy added 230,000 net new jobs last month, up from 214,000 in October. Economists forecast the unemployment rate held steady at 5.8%.
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