First-time jobless claims decline

WASHINGTON — First-time claims for unemployment benefits fell to 350,000 last week, close to the 41⁄2-year low, the Labor Department said Thursday.

The figure for the week that ended Saturday was down 12,000 from the revised reading of the previous week. It brought weekly jobless claims down to the level that economists say is consistent with moderate job growth.

The less-volatile four-week average also dropped last week, by 11,250 to 356,750, as the jobs market continued its recovery from a spike in claims last month caused by Superstorm Sandy.

The four-week average was the lowest since March 2008. Last week’s data included an unusually large number of states that had to estimate their claims figures because of government office closures for Christmas, the Labor Department said.

The latest reading on the jobs market beat analyst expectations of about 360,000 new claims and comes about a week before the government releases the December unemployment report.

—From staff and wire reports