After rising to the highest level since the summer, new applications for unemployment benefits fell by 11,000 to 271,000 in the second week of December, the Department of Labor reported Thursday.

That was just above the projection of 270,000 new claims from economists polled by Bloomberg. The claims numbers are adjusted for seasonal variations.

The four-week moving average of claims also edged down by 250 to 270,500. That average appears to have crept up or leveled off since hitting four-decade lows over the late summer, but it is still ultra-low.

Few jobless claims are taken as a positive sign for the health of the U.S. economy, because they suggest that layoffs are scarce. Of all the indicators about the economy, the unemployment benefit claims numbers are among the brightest.

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