Unemployment in Japan unexpectedly fell in December, signaling that employment was continuing to heal at the end of 2021 before the rapid spread of the omicron variant.

The jobless rate edged down to 2.7%, the internal affairs ministry reported Tuesday, with the number of workers increasing by 490,000 — the most since 1986. Analysts had expected the unemployment rate to hold at 2.8%.

A separate report showed jobs offers outnumbered applicants by a slightly greater margin, although there was still far more slack in the labor market than before the pandemic. There were 116 jobs offered in December for every 100 applicants, compared with 155 positions being advertised two years prior.