The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits ticked up 1,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 326,000, a level consistent with steady job gains.
The Labor Department says the four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell for the third straight week to 331,500. Both figures are close to pre-recession levels and suggest that companies are laying off few workers.
One sour note in the report is nearly 1.4 million people who have been unemployed longer than six months lost benefits in the week that ended January 4th, the latest period for which figures are available. That's because an emergency program that provided extended benefits expired on December 28th.
The number of recipients fell to 3.7 million from 4.7 million in the previous week. About 300,000 people began receiving unemployment benefits last week.