NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The number of Americans filing for first-time unemployment benefits took an upswing just before Christmas.
About 381,000 people filed initial jobless claims in the week ended Dec. 24, the Labor Department said Thursday. That was more than economists had expected and marked an increase of 15,000 from the prior week, when claims had fallen to their lowest level since April 2008.
The Labor Department adjusts the figures to account for seasonal trends, but still, the holidays can sometimes distort the numbers slightly. Economists look to the four-week average to smooth out volatility. In the latest report, that number decreased to 375,000, its lowest level since mid-2008.
"Around the holidays, initial claims tend to be volatile, so I think we don't have to read too much into the small rebound today," said Aichi Amemiya, an economist with Nomura. "We believe the labor market continues to improve."
Meanwhile, continuing claims -- which include Americans filing for their second week of claims or more -- increased 34,000 to 3,601,000 in the week ended Dec. 17, the most recent data available.
Investors seemed to shrug off the numbers, optimistic that next week's monthly jobs report will show employers ramped up their hiring slightly in December.
Economists surveyed by Briefing.com predict the report will show employers added 150,000 jobs in December, up from 120,000 the month before. The unemployment rate, however, is expected to rise from 8.6% to 8.7%, as discouraged workers re-enter the labor force to look for jobs again.
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