Initial jobless claims fell more than expected last week.
Claims dropped 17,000 to 421,000 in the week ending Dec. 4, the Department of Labor said. The revised figure for the previous week was 438,000.
A survey of analysts by Reuters forecast claims sliding to 425,000 from the previously reported 436,000.
Employers have reduced the number of workers they lay off as the economy shows signs of a slow recovery and consumer spending picks up. Still, there seems little appetite for the kind of large-scale hiring that would make a dent in unemployment.
"Companies are maintaining very, very lean staffing levels," Neil Dutta, an economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Research told Bloomberg News before the report. "It would take a big shock for companies to significantly increase firings but at the same time, they're not hiring."
The four-week moving average, a clearer measure of unemployment trends, fell 4,000, to 427,500, the lowest in more than two years. The revised average for the previous week was 431,500.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said on "60 Minutes" that it could take years for unemployment to dip to pre-crisis levels.
"At the rate we're going, it could be four, five years before we are back to a more normal unemployment rate" of about 5 percent to 6 percent," Bernanke said in an interview broadcast Dec. 5.
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