WASHINGTON (AP) -- Initial claims for unemployment benefits dropped more than expected last week but remain near a 26-year high.
The Labor Department says that new applications for jobless benefits fell to a seasonally adjusted 554,000 from an upwardly revised figure of 575,000 the previous week.
That's slightly below economists' expectations of 558,000 claims.
A Labor Department analyst says one likely reason for the decline is that the figure was inflated two weeks ago by applicants who delayed filing their claims during the Thanksgiving holiday week.
Still, the four-week moving average, which smooths out fluctuations, increased slightly last week to 543,750, the highest since December 1982.
The labor force has grown by about half since then.