WASHINGTON — Initial claims for U.S. state unemployment benefits fell by 25,000 to 370,000 in the December 1 week, a third straight decline after spiking in the November 10 week, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

A Labor Department analyst said that Oklahoma was estimated due to computer problems, but otherwise there was nothing usual in the date.

The median estimate of economists surveyed by MNI was for initial claims to come in at 375,000 which would have been an 18,000 decline from the initially reported 393,000 level. That week's claims were revised up slightly to 395,000.

Seasonal adjustment factors expected unadjusted claims to jump by 48.3% in the December 1 week, which usually produces the largest single-week increase of the year. Instead, unadjusted claims rose 38.9%, or 139,678, to 498,619. That level is still below the 528,793 level reported in the comparable week a year ago.

The state data released for the November 24 week indicated unadjusted initial claims increased in 17 states and declined in 36 states, with no states unchanged. The District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Virgin Islands are included in this data.

The initial claims seasonally adjusted 4-week moving average was 408,000 in the December 1 week, an increase of 2,250 from the previous week and the highest average since the October 1, 2011 week. The moving average should decline next week as the November 10 level of 451,000 rolls out of the calculation.

The level of continuing claims came in at 3.205 million after seasonal adjustment in the November 24 week, a decline of 100,000 from the previous week.

The level of unadjusted continuing claims jumped by 465,529 to 3,301,200 in the week, but remains below the 3,696,154 level in the comparable week a year ago.

The seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate fell to 2.5% from 2.6% in the previous week, and remains well below the seasonally adjusted 2.9% rate in the comparable 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.

The Labor Department said that the level of unadjusted Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits claims fell by 110,446 in the November 17 week, bringing that category total to 2,008,608.

Extended benefits claims fell by 206 to 37,096 in the November 17 week.

The extended benefits program pays claims after a person has exhausted regular unemployment benefits and the four tiers of Emergency Unemployment Claims. The program provides benefits for an additional 13 weeks but some states can volunteer to pay extended benefits for an additional 7 weeks for a total of 20 weeks.

The extended benefits program can be triggered if a state has an unemployment rate above 8% and is more than 110% of that state's unemployment rate in one of the three previous years. New York is currently the only state still on the program.

The Labor Department reported that a total of 4,959,240 persons claimed unemployment benefits in the November 17 week, a decline of 224,722 from the previous week and still well below the 6,575,150 persons in the comparable week a year ago. These data are not seasonally adjusted, and include regular state claims, federal employee claims, new veterans' claims, the EUC and extended benefits programs, state additional benefits, and STC/Workshare claims.

Market News International is a real-time global news service for fixed-income and foreign exchange market professionals. See www.marketnews.com.

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