Initial jobless claims remained relatively steady, edging down 0.6% to 339,000 for the week ending Dec. 28, according to a Labor Department report released today.

After dropping a revised 10.3% the previous week amid volatile holiday employment (the government struggles to account for seasonal hiring by retailers and other businesses and for temporary layoffs of school employees during the holidays), this newest report essentially matched analyst expectations of 338,500 claims. 

Source: Author, data from Labor Department. 

From a more long-term perspective, a 2.4% bump in the four-week moving average to 357,250 initial claims marked the fourth straight report of increases. Still, both the latest week's claims and the four-week average fall significantly below 400,000, a cutoff point that economists consider a sign of an improving labor market.

On a state-by-state basis, five states recorded a decrease of more than 1,000 initial claims for the week ending Dec. 21 (most recent available data). California recorded the largest decrease (5,430) and was the only state to provide a comment, citing fewer layoffs in agriculture, forestry, and fishing industries. 

For the same period, seven states registered increases of more than 1,000 initial claims. Michigan claims jumped the most (4,870), due primarily to wholesale trade-industry layoffs.

In all, nearly 4.5 million people received some form of unemployment benefits in the week ending Dec. 14, the latest data available. That's 180,000 more than the previous week. Of those recipients, about 1.3 million stand to lose their benefits this month, according to the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group. That's because Congress opted not to renew an emergency federal program, which provided up to 47 weeks of additional benefits.

-- Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.