jobless claims at recent lowFewer Americans than forecast filed applications for unemployment benefits during the week ending December 20, a sign the job market is making progress as the year ends.

Jobless claims dropped by 9,000 to 280,000, the fewest since early November, from 289,000 in the prior period, a Labor Department report shows. Rising demand is encouraging businesses to hold off on dismissals and take on more workers. Better job prospects and cheaper fuel costs signal consumer spending will provide another boost to the expansion this quarter following growth from July through September that was the strongest in more than a decade.

The four-week moving average, a less volatile measure than the weekly figures, declined to 290,250 claims, down from 298,750 claims the prior week. The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits climbed by 25,000 to 2.4 million in the week ended Dec. 13. The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits held at 1.8 percent. Initial jobless claims reflect weekly firings and typically decline before job growth accelerates.

Demand for labor continues to expand. The economy has added 2.65 million workers to payrolls so far this year, the biggest annual gain since 1999. The jobless rate in November held at 5.8 percent, the lowest since 2008.

Recent reports show the improvement in the job market is broad-based across the nation. Payrolls rose in 37 states in November from Vermont to Hawaii and the unemployment rate fell in 41, according to data on state employment.

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