WASHINGTON — While it is a bit of a stretch to say that economists are snug in their beds with visions of jobless claims dancing in their heads, there is no denying they are growing more excited about the improvement in claims over the past month and will be focusing on that release in the holiday-shortened week.

WASHINGTON — While it is a bit of a stretch to say that economists are snug in their beds with visions of jobless claims dancing in their heads, there is no denying they are growing more excited about the improvement in claims over the past month and will be focusing on that release in the holiday-shortened week.

Claims have fallen by 40,000 over the past four weeks to a post-recession low of 364,000. After initial doubts when the decline started, many analysts are putting more weight on the downward trend.

"The claims drop is looking more authentic," said Robert Brusca, chief economist at FAO Economics.

The jobless claims report will come out Thursday. The big question is whether the improvement in claims translates into better nonfarm payrolls, which have averaged about 132,000 over the first 11 months of this year.

The Labor Department will release the December unemployment report Jan. 6.

Analysts do not expect much improvement in the unemployment rate in December because there was a sharp downturn in November to 8.6 percent from 9 percent.

Although very early, economists are expecting roughly 140,000 new jobs were created in December, which would be slightly better than 120,000 jobs created in November.