"Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell by 22,000 to a seasonally adjusted 432,000 in the week ended Dec. 26, from 454,000 in the prior week," Reuters writes.
The Associated Press says those first-time claims were the lowest in any week since July 2008. Most economists had thought gains went up last week.
The Employment and Training Administration's report adds that "the 4-week moving average was 460,250, a decrease of 5,500 from the previous week's revised average of 465,750." That "moving average" tends to smooth out week-to-week fluctuations and give a better view of the trend.
Even in good times, there are almost always at least a couple hundred thousand first-time claims for the benefits each week. As the economy slipped into recession in late 2007 and as things got worse in 2008 and early 2009, those claims grew and sometimes topped 600,000 in a week. You can look at the week-to-week numbers over recent years here.
Planet Money follows the economy's ups and downs here.