The number of Americans filing for first-time unemployment benefits plunged 39,000 last week to the lowest level in nearly five years, the government said Thursday.
In a report that shows how volatile the job market is, the Labor Department said initial claims declined to a seasonally adjusted 291,000 in the week ended Dec. 25, down from a revised 330,000 for the previous week. That was the lowest level since Feb. 4, 1989, when initial claims totaled 286,000.
Economists had predicted a decline in part because of the Christmas holiday. (Initial claims usually decline during holiday weeks.) But the drop of 39,000 was nearly four times what they had expected.
The huge decrease was fueled in part by fewer layoffs in construction, manufacturing and the textile industry.
The four-week moving average of initial jobless claims declined 7,750 from the previous week to a seasonally adjusted 321,000, the lowest level since Sept. 9, 1989. Economists prefer to use that figure as a measure of hiring trends because it is much less volatile than the weekly number, which has swung up and down over the last few months.
The four-week average has fluctuated in a relatively narrow range between 330,000 and 350,000 since mid-August.
Economists have consistently said the job market is improving, led by gains in hiring among smaller companies.