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Some 15,000 fewer people filed for unemployment benefits last week than the week before, bringing the total number of people claiming the benefits down to 372,000. The weekly decrease was the fourth in five weeks, and the four-week average, which economists see as a more steady number, fell to "373,250, a decrease of 3,250 from the previous week's revised average of 376,500," the Labor Department reported. According to the Associated Press, "When applications drop below 375,000 — consistently — they generally signal that hiring is strong enough to reduce the unemployment rate."

Update (9:18 a.m. EST): ADP Employment Services issued its report for the month of December on Thursday, showing the U.S. economy added 325,000 private-sector jobs for the month, which Bloomberg reported "nearly double the number economists had projected."

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