Claims in the U.S. for jobless benefits in the fourth week of January dropped after an uptick in the prior week, the Labor Department said Thursday.
The four-week moving average of first-time applications for unemployment insurance benefits, which smoothes out weekly fluctuations that tend to be pronounced in January, came in at 375,750, a decrease of 2,000 from the previous week's revised average of 377,750.
In the week ended Jan. 28, jobless claims dropped by 12,000 to 367,000. Economists polled by Reuters called for a decrease of 2,000.
Jobless claims have registered below the key 400,000 mark -- a level historically associated with an improving labor market - for 12 consecutive weeks.
Jobless claims tend to jump around during holidays as the government has difficulties adjusting the data for seasonal swings in employment.
The first few weeks are very volatile and it kind of becomes stable throughout the rest of the year, said Kim Fraser, an economist with BBVA Compass bank of Birmingham, Ala. People are coming back from the short holiday weeks and businesses are hiring for the first part of the year.
However, Fraser said unless the jobless claims further decline to 350,000 level and below, it might not be adding much to the non-farm payrolls.
Economists project Friday's government report will show that employers hired 150,000 workers in January, fewer than the 200.000 they hired in December. Also, January's jobless rate is expected to hold at 8.5 percent, an almost three-year low.
Private employment is forecast to increase by 170,000 after a 212,000 gain in December, while manufacturing is expected to have added 15,000 jobs in January, down from 23,000 in the prior month.
Continuing claims -- which include people filing for the second week of benefits or more -- fell by 130,000, to 3,437,000 in the week ended Jan. 21.
The continuing claims figure does not include the number of Americans receiving extended benefits under federal programs.
The four-week average was 3,527,500, a decrease of 43,000 from the preceding week's revised average of 3,570,500.