The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits was unchanged last week and the underlying trend remained consistent with a tightening labour market. 

US workers filed 245,000 initial claims for state unemployment benefits during the week that ended December 23, according to seasonally adjusted figures published by the Labor Department today. 

Data for the previous week was unrevised. 

Since the middle of October, claims have been confined to a range of 223,000 to 252,000.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims edging down to 240,000 in the latest week. 

Last week marked the 147th week in a row that claims remained below the 300,000 threshold, which is associated with a strong labour market. 

That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the US labour market was smaller. 

The labour market is widely seen as near full employment, with the jobless rate at a 17-year low of 4.1%. 

Labour market tightness and a strengthening economy encouraged the Federal Reserve to increase interest rates earlier this month for a third time this year. The Fed has forecast three rate hikes for 2018. 

The US economy added 228,000 jobs in November, well above the roughly 100,000 jobs per month needed to keep up with growth in the working-age population. 

The Labour Department said claims-taking procedures continued to be disrupted in the Virgin Islands months after Hurricanes Irma and Maria battered the islands. The processing of claims in Puerto Rico was still not back to normal. 

Last week, the four-week moving average of initial claims, which is seen as a measure of labour market trends because it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 1,750 to 237,750.