Small and large businesses have said they would accelerate hiring this year, and other sectors in the economy, such as manufacturing, and consumer spending have shown positive signs of growth that could propel job creation.
Still, most economists estimate that the unemployment rate with hover around 9 percent for all of 2011.
Economists have argued that jobless claims need to drop into the low 400,000s or high 300,000s to reflect stronger job growth in the private sector; they've also expressed the need for hiring to accelerate to make a dent in regaining the 8 million jobs lost during the recession.
In late December, weekly claims dropped below 400,000 for the first time since July 2008, before the start of the financial crisis that would spur growing layoffs.
Before wrapping up work in the 111th Congress last year, lawmakers passed a comprehensive $858 billion bill to extend 2001 and 2003 tax breaks for two years and provide for extended federal unemployment benefits through the end of the year for those out of work for more than six months.
Those policy changes are expected to provide some certainty for businesses on tax policy so they can start hiring.
Continuing claims — which includes people filing for the second week of benefits or more — fell to 3.8 million in the week that ended Jan. 8, a decrease of 26,000 from the week before.
The number of those who’ve used up their 26 weeks of state benefits and are collecting emergency and extended payments increased by about 29,000 to 4.68 million in the week that ended Jan. 1.