New jobless claims fell by 94,000 in the past week to 492,000, the Labor Department said on Dec. 31 in a report showing a struggling labor market.
The drop during the Christmas holiday week came after a week that saw 586,000 new claims, the highest since 1982.
Still, the latest figure was better than expected by private economists, who had expected a level of 575,000 new claims.
The four-week moving average of new claims, which is sometimes seen as a better indicator of trends, was 552,250, a decrease of 5,750 from the previous week.
The insured unemployment rate was 3.4% for the week ending December 20, an increase of 0.1 percentage points from the prior week. That means some 4.5 million people were receiving unemployment benefits, the highest number since 1982.
The weekly data suggest the year-old recession is taking a heavy toll on employment. In November, some 533,000 jobs were lost sending the unemployment rate to a 15-year high of 6.7% and many analysts expect the figures to rise further.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008