The government Wednesday said initial jobless claims in the week ended Dec. 27 fell to 339,000, the lowest level in almost three years. Economists had expected little change from the previous week's 354,000 level.
It's the 13th straight week that initial claims have been below 400,000, the level thought to be the dividing line between contraction and growth in the labor market.
Job creation has been unusually weak and the unemployment rate slow to decline in this economic recovery. There have, however, been recent signs of improvement. The economy has created jobs in each of the past four months, while the unemployment rate has declined slightly.
The government issues its December employment report next Friday.
A report by the Conference Board Tuesday showed worries about the labor market resurfaced among consumers in December. Of the 5,000 people surveyed, 32.6% said jobs were hard to get, compared with 29.6% in November. The percentage of those who found jobs plentiful declined to 12.5% from 13.5%.