Weekly Jobless Claims Fall by 4,000

The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell last week as the labor market continued to tighten.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits declined 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 254,000 for the week ended Dec. 10, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims for the prior week were unrevised.

It was the 93rd straight week that claims were below 300,000, a threshold associated with a healthy labor market. That is the longest stretch since 1970, when the labor market was much smaller. The labor market is viewed as being at or near full employment.

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday raised its benchmark overnight interest rate by 25 basis points to a range of 0.50 percent to 0.75 percent in a nod to tightening labor market conditions. The U.S. central bank, which forecast three rate hikes in 2017, said it expected that "the job conditions will

strengthen somewhat further."

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast first-time applications for jobless benefits falling to 255,000 in the latest week. Claims hit a 43-year low of 233,000 in mid-November before rising to a five-month high of 268,000 two weeks later.

Claims tend to be volatile around this time of the year because of different timings of the various holidays.

A Labor Department analyst said there were no special factors influencing last week's data and that no states had been estimated. The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 5,250 to 257,750 last week.

The claims report also showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid increased 11,000 to 2.02 million in the week ended Dec. 3. The four-week average of the so-called continuing claims rose 8,750 to 2.04 million.

((Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao))