Claims for jobless benefits have dropped sharply again in the United States, a new signal that the country's labor market may be improving.
The government said Thursday that 343,000 jobless workers sought unemployment compensation last week, down 29,000 from the week before. It was the fourth straight week the number has declined and is the second-lowest total of the year.
Applications for jobless assistance surged five weeks ago in the aftermath of the devastating superstorm Sandy that struck the country's eastern seaboard, leaving widespread damage along the heavily populated New Jersey and New York shorelines. But the storm had little effect on hiring, with U.S. businesses adding 146,000 new employees last month as the national jobless rate fell to a four-year low at 7.7 percent.
Even with the improving employment indicators, U.S. central bank policy makers said Wednesday the advance of the country's labor market is too slow. The Federal Reserve said it would not change its already very-low benchmark interest rate until the jobless rate dips to 6.5 percent, a level it said might not be reached until mid-2015.
In a separate report Thursday, the government said that retail sales in the U.S. rose by three-tenths of a percent in November as auto and electronics sales and shopping on Internet sites advanced. The sales gain last month offset a decrease by the same amount in October.