By Jeffry Bartash, Market Watch–

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — The number of Americans who applied for unemployment benefits in the week before Christmas fell by 10,000 to 265,000, returning initial claims to the extremely low levels that have been the norm since last summer.

Economists polled by MarketWatch had forecast initial claims to total a seasonally adjusted 270,000 in the week running from Dec. 18 to Dec. 24.

In mid-December, new claims had jumped to a six-month high of 275,000. Yet claims usually swing up and down in the period that stretches from Thanksgiving to early January, as many Americans move in and out of the workforce during the holiday shopping season.

Initial claims have been under 300,000 for 95 straight weeks, the longest streak since 1970. Millions of Americans have found work in the past five years, pushing the unemployment rate below 5% and eliciting complaints among businesses about how hard it is to find skilled workers to fill open jobs.

The less volatile four-week average of initial claims, meanwhile, fell by 750 to 263,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The monthly figure is seen as a less volatile measure.

Continuing jobless claims rose by 63,000 to 2.1 million in the week ended Dec.17. These claims, reported with a one-week delay, reflect the number of people already collecting unemployment checks.