Jobless claims fall again, staying well below 300,000

WASHINGTON - Fewer Americans signed up for unemployment benefits last week, the second straight week that claims have declined.

The Labor Department says weekly claims for jobless benefits dropped by 4,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 254,000, the lowest level in three weeks. The less-volatile four-week average rose by 5,250 to 257,750. Overall, 2.02 million Americans are collecting unemployment checks, down 10.1 percent from a year ago.

Claims have come in below 300,000 for 93 straight weeks, the longest such streak since 1970 when the population and labor force were much smaller. The applications are a proxy for layoffs and the low numbers suggest that the labor market remains healthy.

Unemployment in November fell to a nine-year low of 4.6 percent.