Photograph by Spencer Platt — Getty Images
By John Kell
December 24, 2014

The number of fresh claims for unemployment benefits fell again in the week preceding the Christmas holiday, dipping more than expected — the latest indication of the labor market’s strength as the nation heads into 2015.

The Labor Department reported jobless claims totaled 280,000 for the week ending Dec. 20, a decrease of 9,000 from the prior week’s unrevised level of 289,000. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had projected 290,000 claims for the latest week. It was the fourth-straight week of decline.

The U.S. labor market has strengthened throughout the year, with the unemployment rate dropping from 6.6% in January to kick off 2014 to 5.8% in November. For 10 consecutive months, employers have added at least 200,000 jobs. The improved employment trends have even caught the attention of the Federal Reserve, which earlier this month touted the labor market’s solid job gains and lower unemployment rate and said “a range of labor market indicators suggests that underutilization of labor resources continues to diminish.”

Economists have been encouraged by the labor market’s strength this year, bolstered by U.S. economic growth that has encouraged employers to add jobs at a steady and consistent pace. The gains in jobs have been fairly broad-based in nature, and most of the new jobs added since late 2011 have been full-time positions.

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