There were 326,000 first-time claims for jobless benefits filed last week, the Employment and Training Administration said Thursday.
While down only 2,000 from the previous week, claims did hold steady around the level where they were typically running before December 2007, when the economy slipped into its latest recession.
During that recession, which officially ended in June 2009, claims spiked as high as 670,000 one week in March 2009.
The Associated Press calls the latest figure "a sign that layoffs are weighing less on the job market and economic growth."
Another good sign in Thursday's report: The "4-week moving average" number of claims was 335,000 — down by 13,500 from the previous week. That measure smooths out some of the volatility in the figures and arguably gives a better picture of the underlying trend.
MarketWatch cautions, though, that "claims are a good proxy for whether layoffs are rising or falling, but they only offer indirect clues about the pace of hiring."
In other words, while companies (with some notable exceptions such as J.C. Penney) may not be quickly cutting jobs, they also aren't adding jobs quickly. That problem was underscored last week when the Bureau of Labor Statistics said just 74,000 jobs were added to payrolls in December.