The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits jumped by 17,000 in the final week of December to the highest level since Thanksgiving, but the overall level of layoffs and firings remains extremely low amid a sharp uptick in job creation. Initial jobless claims rose to 298,000 in the seven days ended Dec. 27 from a revised 281,000 in the prior week, the Labor Department said Wednesday. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected claims to total a seasonally adjusted 290,000. Initial claims are often quite volatile in the period stretching from Thanksgiving until the end of January because of the holidays, poor weather and big changes in seasonal hiring. The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, dipped by 250 to 290,750. The four-week average smoothens out seasonal volatility in the weekly report and is seen as a more accurate predictor of labor-market trends. Also, the government said continuing claims fell by 53,000 to a seasonally adjusted 2.35 million in the week ended Dec. 20. Continuing claims, which reflect the number of people already receiving benefits, are hovering near a 14-year low.
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