WASHINGTON -- Initial
The number of people filing for first-time unemployment benefits fell to 326,000 from a downwardly revised 328,000 the previous week.
The drop was in line with analyst expectations. The last time the figure was lower was in the week ended Nov. 30, when 305,000 filed for claims at the start of the holiday season, which typically causes volatility in the numbers.
The four-week average of claims, which smooths out the volatility, dropped to 335,000 last week, down 13,500 from the previous week, the Labor Department said.
Economists say weekly claims below 350,000 indicate moderate labor-market growth.
Job growth in December was disappointing. The Labor Department said last week that the economy added just 74,000 net new jobs in December, a third of what analysts expected.
But jobless claims have been improving since late December. Claims were down last week for the third straight week.
Steven Ricchiuto, chief economist at Mizuho Securities, said the recent claims data indicate the economy will add about 175,000 jobs in January. That would be a significant improvement over December, but below 2013's average of 182,000 net new jobs a month.