WASHINGTON — Initial claims for U.S. state unemployment benefits rose by 4,000 to 371,000 in the January 5 week, while continuing claims in the prior week fell to their lowest since in four and a half years, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

The initially reported 372,000 claims level for the Dec. 29 week was revised down to 367,000.

A Labor Department analyst said there were no states estimated in this report, with "nothing unusual" in the state level data.

Seasonal adjustment factors expected unadjusted claims to jump by 11.4% or 55,843 in the January 5 week. Instead, unadjusted claims rose 12.6% or 61,944, to 552,043. That level is still below the 646,219 level reported in the comparable week a year ago.

Looking ahead, the Labor analyst noted that the level of unadjusted claims usually hits its peak for the year in the second week of January. "We are building up to that," he said.

The state data released for the December 29 week indicated unadjusted initial claims increased in 30 states and declined in 23 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 365,750 in the January 5 week, an increase of 6,750 from the previous week.

The level of continuing claims came in at 3.109 million after seasonal adjustment in the December 29 week, a decline of  127,000 from the previous week and the lowest level since the week of July 12, 2008 (3.104 million).

The Labor Department analyst also noted that the 127,000 drop in continuing claims was the largest fall since the Jan. 1, 2011 week — when continuing claims declined by 193,000.

The level of unadjusted continuing claims rose by 375,371 to 3,659,813 in the week, but remains below the 4,161,063 level in the comparable week a year ago.

The seasonally adjusted insured unemployment dipped to 2.4% from 2.5% the prior week, and remains 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 74,252 in the December 22 week, bringing that category's total to 1,991,454. The program has been extended for another year by Congress.

Extended benefits claims fell by a mere 1,275 to 1,045 in the December 22 week — there are no longer any states on the program. New York was the last state to paying out extended benefits but they stopped on December 9.

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

The Labor Department reported that a total of 5,356,271 persons claimed unemployment benefits in the December 22 week, a decline of 51,335 from the previous week and well below the 7,333,322 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.

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