WASHINGTON, D.C. - New claims for U.S. unemployment insurance benefits, an indicator of the pace of layoffs, fell last week after a surge the prior week, the Labor Department said Thursday.
Initial jobless claims totaled 307,000 in the week ending January 17, down 10,000 from the previous week's revised level, the agency said.
The prior week's claims reading was revised up by 1,000 to 317,000, the highest level since early June.
Analysts had expected a larger decline last week in claims, to 302,000.
The Labor Department said there was no special factor affecting the seasonally adjusted data, but analysts pointed out that weekly seasonal adjustments after the November-December holiday shopping season can prove difficult.
The four-week moving average, which helps to smooth out week-over-week volatility, was 306,500 last week, reflecting an increase of 6,500 from the previous week's upwardly revised average of 300,000.
A year ago, the moving average was higher, at 335,000.
The new claims number marked the second straight week that claims have been above 300,000.
"The rise is too small to date to signal an uptrend, but the data merit watching," said Jim O'Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics.
The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 5.6% in December from 5.8% in November, the lowest level since June 2008. The economy added nearly three million jobs in 2014.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2015