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Initial jobless claims rose in the week ended Jan. 3, but remained below the 400,000 mark for the 14th consecutive week.

The government Thursday said claims rose to 353,000, up from 339,000 the previous week, and more than economists' consensus estimate of 345,000.

The level of new claims remains at a three-year low and below the 400,000 mark, which is considered the dividing line for growth and contraction in the labor market.

The four-week average of initial claims fell by 5,500 to 350,250, the lowest since February 2001.

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The government Friday releases its December employment report. Economists expect the economy to have created 140,000 new jobs during the month, up from the surprisingly low 57,000 that were added in November.

The unemployment rate is expected to remain at 5.9% for the third straight month.