Jobless claims improve

@CNNMoney January 5, 2012: 9:48 AM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Americans filing for first time jobless claims last week declined in another sign of an improving labor market.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that 372,000 people filed for first-time benefits, down 15,000 from the revised reading for the week below.

The figure is still slightly above the reading of 364,000 for the week ended Dec. 17, which marked the fewest people seeking help since April of 2008.

But the latest weekly reading took the four-week average to 373,250, which was also down from the previous week. The four-week moving average is seen as a less volatile reading, and has now declined for five straight weeks to the lowest level since June 2008.

Unemployed people continuing to receive jobs benefits also fell by 22,000 to 3.6 million.

"Altogether, the long-term trends in both initial and continuing claims suggest that the recover in the labor market is maintaining its momentum," said economist Michael Gapen of Barclays Capital in a note Thursday.

The report came minutes after payroll processing firm ADP estimated that businesses added 325,000 jobs in December, which would be the biggest hiring binge of 2011.

The jobless claims report also came a day ahead of the closely watched December jobs report from the Labor Department.

A survey of top economists by CNNMoney forecasts that employers added 150,000 jobs in the month, but that unemployment ticked up to 8.7% from 8.6% in November.

Businesses are expected to have added 170,000 jobs, while government payrolls fell by 20,000. To top of page

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