First-time claims for weekly unemployment benefits increased to 225,000 for the week ended December 24, according to Labor Department data released Thursday. That’s up 9,000 from the previous week’s tally of 216,000. Economists were expecting 225,000 initial claims, according to Refinitiv estimates. Weekly initial claims have been hovering at pre-pandemic levels for the last few months, only slightly above the 2019 weekly average of 218,000. The steady level of initial claims continues to paint a “very tight picture” of the US labor market, said Eugenio Aleman, Raymond James’ chief economist. Continuing claims, which are filed by people who have received unemployment benefits for more than one week, increased to 1.71 million for the week ended December 17, from 1.67 million. That’s the highest level since February and just shy of pre-pandemic filings of 1.8 million, and suggests that workers may be having more difficulty finding a new job. Weekly jobless claims are volatile — especially around the holidays — and frequently subject to revision.