The Labor Department says applications for unemployment benefits fell 4,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 294,000.
The four-week average, a less volatile measure, slipped 250 to 290,500. That average has plunged 16 per cent in the past 12 months, as averages have stayed at historically low sub-300,000 levels since September.
In the monthly jobs report being released Friday, employers are expected to have added 243,000 jobs in December, according to a survey of economists by data firm FactSet. That would follow job gains of 321,000 in November and put total job growth in 2014 at just shy of 3 million, the best performance since 1999.