The number of Americans making initial claims for state unemployment benefits slightly exceeded expectations in the week that ended Dec. 23 but remained within the range of the past two months.
The Labor Department said initial jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs, were unchanged at a seasonally adjusted 245,000. Economists had forecast first-time applications for jobless benefits declining to 240,000.
Jobless applications have now stayed below the 300,000 threshold normally associated with a strong jobs market for 147 straight weeks, the longest period since 1970 when the labor market was much smaller.
Since mid-October, they have been confined to a range of 223,000 to 252,000, reflecting a labor market that is widely seen as near full employment with an unemployment rate of 4.1%.
The economy added 228,000 jobs in November, well above the roughly 100,000 jobs per month needed to keep up with growth in the working-age population. The Federal Reserve and many economists believe the unemployment rate could soon fall below 4% for the first time since 2000.
Overall, about 1.94 million people are receiving jobless benefits, an increase of 7,000 from the previous week. Last year at this time, about 2.1 million Americans were receiving jobless benefits.
The four-week moving average of claims, which irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 1,750 to 237,750 last week.
Thursday’s report also showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid increased 7,000 to 1.94 million in the week ended Dec. 16. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims fell 4,250 to 1.92 million.