New applications for unemployment benefits dropped by 1,000 in the last full week of January to an extremely low 230,000, the Department of Labor reported Thursday.

Forecasters had expected new jobless claims to inch up to 235,000 after hovering near the lowest levels in 45 years recently.

Low claims are a good sign for the economy, as they indicate that layoffs are rare.

The low claims throughout January have lifted expectations for Friday's report. Over the past month, claims have averaged 234,500, the lowest such mark of the recovery apart from a stretch in the late fall.

Claims are easily below the roughly 300,000 mark that, economists calculate, would indicate a rising unemployment rate.

High Frequency Economics forecaster Jim O'Sullivan noted that the numbers are "consistent with the trend in employment growth remaining more than strong enough to keep the unemployment rate trending down," and projected that Friday's jobs report would show 160,000 new jobs.

And at 4.1 percent, the unemployment is already the lowest it has been since the turn of the century.