The number of U.S. workers filing new claims for jobless benefits fell more than expected last week, moderating from a 26-year high touched the previous week, Labor Department data showed on Thursday.
Despite the decline, jobless claims remain exceptionally high, and are more than 200,000 higher than a year ago.
Initial claims for state unemployment insurance benefits fell 21,000, to a seasonally adjusted 554,000 in the week ended December 13 from an upwardly revised 575,000 the previous week. State offices were closed for at least one day near the end of November because of the Thanksgiving holiday, distorting the holiday week and the following week's numbers.
A Labor Department official said there were no special factors influencing the report. Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast 558,000 new claims versus a previously reported figure of 573,000 the week before.
The four-week moving average of new jobless claims, a better gauge of underlying labor trends because it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose to 543,750 from 541,000 the prior week, keeping the average at a 26-year high.
Continuing claims fell to 4.38 million in the week ended December 6 after scaling a 26-year of 4.43 million the previous week.
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