WASHINGTON — Initial claims U.S. state unemployment benefits fell by 2,000 to 236,000 in the December 2 week, below the 240,000 level expected, data released by the Labor Department Thursday showed.

The four-week moving average for initial claims, a better measure of the underlying trend of the data, fell slightly by 750 to 241,500 in the December 2 week as the 239,000 level in the November 4 week rolled out of the equation.

If the number of headline claims does not change next week and there are no revisions to data from the past four weeks, the four-week average will fall by 4,000 as the 252,000 level in the November 11 week rolls out of the calculation.

The Labor Department reported that backlogged claims filings in Puerto Rico continued to be processed, but have not yet returned to normal while claims in the Virgin Islands "continue to be disrupted." Unadjusted claims in Puerto Rico totaled 7,115 in the current week after 3,106 in the previous week.

Seasonal adjustment factors had expected an increase of 46.2%, or 103,974 in unadjusted claims. Instead, unadjusted claim rose by 100,883 to 325,762, so the current week's level was well below the 351,580 level a year ago.

The level of seasonally adjusted continuing claims fell by 52,000 to 1.908 million in the November 25 holiday week, down from 1.960 million in the November 18 survey week.

The four-week moving average for continuing claims rose by 1,000 to 1.913 million.

Unadjusted continuing claims rose by 333,380 to 1.948 million in the week, keeping the level well below the 2.071 million level a year earlier.

The seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate held steady at 1.4%, down from 1.5% in the same week a year earlier.

The unemployment rate among the insured labor force is well below that reported monthly by the Labor Department because claims are approved for the most part only for job losers, not the job leavers and labor force reentrants included in the monthly report.

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