The number of Americans looking for a job has fallen to the lowest level since before the Great Recession, a sign that the job market is firming up as President Obama begins his second term.
Jobless claims dropped for the second straight week, this time by 5,000 people to 330,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday, the lowest level for unemployment claims since January 2008.
The weekly decline was a welcome surprise for economists, who were expecting the number to increase. In separate surveys by Bloomberg and Reuters, economists had forecast 355,000 claims for the week.
Even though unemployment claims are declining, net job growth remains moderate. In December, companies added 155,000 new jobs, a figure that matches the average of 153,000 jobs a month that were added to the economy last year and is similar to numbers from 2011.
The U.S. unemployment rate in December was 7.8 percent.