Fewer Americans than forecast lined up for new jobless benefits last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, though the number may have been distorted by the Christmas holiday.

The federal government was closed Monday and Tuesday and many states also closed for both days. As a result, the Labor Department had to use estimates to gauge the level of jobless claims for 19 states and territories because of paperwork delays.

In the week ending Dec. 22, applications for unemployment insurance payments declined by 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 350,000. Economists polled by MarketWatch had forecast claims to total 361,000 last week. Initial claims from two weeks ago were revised up to 362,000 from an original reading of 361,000.

The four-week moving average, which normally provides a better indication of the underlying trend in labor markets than the weekly number of jobless claims, dropped by 11,250 to 356,750 for first-time benefit applicants, the lowest since March 2008.

The number of people filing for benefits after an initial week of aid increased fell 32,000 to 3.21 million in the week ending Dec. 15. The continuing claims figure does not include the number of Americans receiving extended benefits under federal programs.