(Adds long-term claims, background)
WASHINGTON, Dec 28 (Reuters) - The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits was unchanged last week and the underlying trend remained consistent with a tightening labor market.
U.S. workers filed 245,000 initial claims for state unemployment benefits during the week that ended Dec. 23, according to seasonally adjusted figures published by the Labor Department on Thursday. Data for the prior week was unrevised.
Since mid-October, claims have been confined to a range of 223,000 to 252,000.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims edging down to 240,000 in the latest week. Last week marked the 147th straight week that claims remained below the 300,000 threshold, which is associated with a strong labor market. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was smaller.
The labor market is widely seen as near full employment, with the jobless rate at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent. Labor market tightness and a strengthening economy encouraged the Federal Reserve to increase interest rates earlier this month for a third time this year. The U.S. central bank has forecast three rate hikes for 2018.
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 Labor Department said claims-taking procedures continued to be disrupted in the Virgin Islands months after Hurricanes Irma and Maria battered the islands. The processing of claims in Puerto Rico was still not back to normal.
Last week, the four-week moving average of initial claims, which is seen as a measure of labor market trends because it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 1,750 to 237,750.
The claims report also showed the number of people 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. (Reporting by Jason Lange Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)