Jobless Claims Drop to 388,000

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(Jobless claims report updated with additional detail.)

WASHINGTON (TheStreet) -- The number of Americans filing initial claims for unemployment benefits fell by 34,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 388,000, the Labor Department said early Thursday.

The figure came in far better than expected and was the lowest rate observed since July 2008; it was expected to edge lower to 416,000 for the week ended Dec. 25, according to consensus estimates listed on Briefing.com.

The weekly rate compares to a slight upward revision to a rate of 422,000 initial jobless claims in the week ending Dec. 18.

The four-week moving average of jobless claims, which strips out some of the week-to-week volatility in the data, also fell to its lowest level since July 2008, shedding 12,500 to 414,000, from the prior week's revised average of 426,500.

The Labor Department also reported that the number of American filing continuing claims for jobless benefits -- workers who filed for more than one week -- rose by 57,000 to 4,128,000 in the week ended Dec. 18, from an upwardly revised 4,071,000 in the week prior. Data reported on continuing claims lags that of initial claims by one week.

The unemployment rate for Americans receiving unemployment insurance ticked up to 3.3% in the week ended Dec. 18, up from an unrevised rate of 3.2%.

The total number of people claiming benefits in all programs for the week ending Dec. 4 was 8,866,924.

The largest increases in initial claims for the week ending Dec. 18 were in New Jersey (+5,235), Michigan (+3,087), Missouri (+2,404), Florida (+2,281), and Oregon (+2,026), while the largest decreases were in California (-7,656), Illinois (-3,149), Georgia (-1,935), Pennsylvania (-1,574), and Texas (-1,494).

Stock futures were lower in premarket trading but lifted off early lows following the better-than-expected employment report. The SPDR S&P 500, an exchange-traded fund that tracks the S&P 500, traded down less than 0.1% ahead of the opening bell Thursday. The SPDR Dow Jones Industrial Average ETF was flat, and the PowerShares QQQ Trust was 0.1% lower.

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