jobless claims riseMore Americans filed applications for unemployment benefits for the first time in five weeks, as unemployment benefits claims rose by 17,000 to 298,000 in the week ending Dec. 27, from a revised 281,000 claims in the prior period, as reported by the U.S. Labor Department.

The number of applications typically fluctuate during this time of year as the holidays make it difficult to adjust the data for seasonal variations. Employers are dismissing fewer workers and adding staff as household purchases pick up, driven by a drop in gasoline costs that will continue to boost the economic expansion.

The four-week moving average, a less volatile measure than the weekly figures, increased to 290,750 last week from 290,500.

The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits dropped by 53,000 to 2.35 million in the week ended Dec. 20. The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits held at 1.8 percent. These data are reported with a one-week lag.

Initial jobless claims reflect weekly firings and typically decline before job growth accelerates.

Monthly payroll increases have averaged almost 241,000 so far in 2014, up from the prior year’s 194,000. The addition of 2.7 million workers to payrolls has put the economy on track for the biggest annual gain in hiring since 1999, and the jobless rate is at a six-year low.

Consumer confidence also rose in December to the highest level in nearly seven years as fuel costs reached the cheapest levels since 2009.

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