WASHINGTON - The number of Americans filing for new jobless benefits dropped to a near four-year low last week, pointing to some building up of momentum in the labor market and the economy.
But the upbeat economic outlook was dampened by other data on Thursday showing a drop in new residential construction in December after hefty gains the prior month.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits plunged 50,000 to a seasonally adjusted 352,000, the lowest level since April 2008, the Labor Department said.
That was the largest drop since September 2005 and took claims within spitting distance of the 350,000 mark that economists say would signal strong job growth.
The four-week moving average of claims, considered to be a better measure of labor market trends, dropped 3,500 to 379,000 last week. Analysts had expected initial claims to fall only to 385,000.