Jobless claims edged down for the week ending December 22, with unemployment filings declining by 12,000 applications to 350,000 requests for assistance, the Labor Department said Wednesday.

The drop preceded the holidays and followed a week in which claims shot up by 17,000 filings, reaching 361,000 requests.

"Claims fell 12,000 in the December 22 week to a lower-than-expected level of 350,000," said analysts with research firm Econoday. "But this level appears to be largely a guess since the gathering of the latest data was severely limited by this week's holidays on both Monday and Tuesday, which forced the Labor Department to make estimates for an enormously large number of 19 states."

Housing economists study jobless claims to gauge the overall health of the consumer economy since economic stability contributes to housing activity.

The four-week moving average hit 356,750, a decline of 11,250 filings from the previous week.

The total number of people claiming jobless benefits for the week ending Dec. 8, hit 5.47 million, an increase of approximately 73,000 people from the previous week. Still, that is down from a year ago when 7.2 million people claimed benefits.