WASHINGTON -- Initial claims for unemployment benefits fell to 330,000 last week, the lowest level since November, as holiday season volatility continued to ease ahead of the government's jobs report Friday.
The number of people filing for first-time jobless benefits was down from an upwardly revised 345,000 the previous week, the Labor Department said Thursday.
The drop was in line with analysts' projections.
Jobless claims are particularly volatile during the Thanksgiving-New Year's Day holiday season.
The four-week average, which smooths out some of the volatility, fell to 349,000 last week, a drop of 9,750 from the previous week, the Labor Department said. Weekly claims below 350,000 indicate moderate job growth.
Also on Thursday, outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas Inc. said that announced layoffs tumbled in December to 30,623, down nearly a third from the previous month to the lowest level since 2000.
For 2013, U.S. employers announced 509,051 planned job cuts, down 3 percent from the previous year, the firm said. Last year's announced layoffs were the fewest since 1997.
Thursday's data came as the Labor Department prepared to release the December jobs report Friday. Analysts forecast the economy added about 200,000 jobs last month -- roughly the same as in November -- and the unemployment rate held steady at 7 percent.
But some economists are increasing their projections after a leading private gauge on the labor market from Automatic Data Processing Inc. on Wednesday showed stronger-than-expected job gains last month.
ADP, a payroll processing firm, said the private sector added 238,000 net new jobs in December. The figure was an increase from the upwardly revised 229,000 net new jobs ADP said were created the previous month.
Despite the improving labor market, millions remain unemployed. President Barack Obama and congressional Democratic leaders are pushing to extend emergency federal unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless.
The benefits expired for 1.3 million Americans on Dec. 28.