USA TODAY - Initial claims for unemployment insurance fell sharply last week in a possible sign that the job market is continuing to gain strength.
First-time claims for jobless benefits dropped by 42,000 to a seasonally adjusted 338,000 for the week ending Dec. 21, the Labor Department said Thursday.
The four-week average, which smooths out volatility, rose by 4,250 to 348,000.
Jobless claims have been elevated in recent weeks because of the late Thanksgiving holiday, which affected Labor's seasonal adjustments. Many economists expected a sharp downward correction for last week.
In the week ending Nov. 30, first-time jobless claims were 305,000.
Initial claims are typically a reliable measure of layoffs and often foreshadow monthly job growth, which includes both payroll cuts and hiring.
Employers have added an average 204,000 jobs a month from August through November and the unemployment rate fell to a five-year low of 7.0%, the Labor Department reported earlier this month. Its estimates for December employment will be released on Jan. 10.
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