The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level in nearly a month, a hopeful sign for the labor market.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits decreased 42,000 to a seasonally adjusted 338,000, the Labor Department said Thursday.
Claims for the prior week were revised to show 1,000 more applications received than previously reported. Economists polled by Reuters had expected first-time applications to fall to 345,000 last week.
New jobless claims have trended higher since September, although economists say their level is still consistent with job growth. Other labor market indicators have pointed to strengthening job growth.
The four-week moving average for new claims, which irons out week-to-week volatility, increased 4,250 to 348,000.
Citing an improving labor market, the Federal Reserve earlier this month announced it would reduce its monthly $85 billion bond buying program by $10 billion starting in January.
Payrolls increased solidly in October and November. The unemployment rate dropped to a five-year low of 7.0 percent in November.
A Labor Department analyst said no states had been estimated, but noted that claims were still in a period of volatility related to the holidays. The volatility is caused by the difficulty inherent in adjusting weekly data for seasonal factors like retailers and schools adjusting the sizes of their staff for the winter season.
The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid rose 46,000 to 2.923 million in the week ended Dec. 14.