The average number of people seeking unemployment benefits in the United States over the past month fell to the lowest level since March 2008, a sign that the job market is healing.
The Labor Department says weekly applications dropped 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 350,000 in the week ended Dec. 22. That's about 10,000 less than what economists were expecting.
The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell to a nearly five-year low of 356,750.
The Christmas holiday may have some impact on the reliability of the figures.
A department spokesman said many state unemployment offices were closed Monday and Tuesday and unable to compile complete data.
Fourteen states provided estimates and the department estimated the numbers for five additional states.
The government might estimate one or two states in a typical week, but 19 state estimates are unusually high.