First-time claims for jobless benefits barely budged last week, government data showed on Thursday, suggesting the labor market is healing too slowly to drag down the unemployment rate.
Initial claims dipped slightly to 420,000 in the week ended December 18, matching the median forecast in a Reuters poll of economists, from an upwardly revised 423,000 in the prior week.
The Labor Department reported identical figures a week earlier. A spokesman said the weekly jobless claims series was settling down a bit after a volatile period in November and there were no unusual factors affecting the data.
Continuing claims, which exclude the millions of Americans relying on extended benefits, dipped to 4.06 million in the week ending December 11, down from 4.17 million a week earlier. The four-week average, which smoothes out week-to-week volatility, fell to 4.16 million from 4.19 million.
The total number of Americans claiming benefits -- including those relying on a federal emergency program of extended benefits that was the subject of heated political debate in Washington -- was 8.9 million in the week ending December 4, down from 9.2 million a week earlier.
(Reporting by Emily Kaiser, Editing by Neil Stempleman)