The number of new claims for unemployment benefits dropped four percent in December, the National Insurance Institute reported Monday. "Since the second half of 2009 there has been a gradual decline in claims for unemployment benefits, which fell from 97,000 in June to 86,000 in December," the NII said. "This trend began after claims for unemployment benefits rose from the end of 2008 into the first half of 2009, from 70,000 to 97,000. "Despite the improvement in the second half of the year, total claims for unemployment benefits still rose 50% in 2009 compared with the previous year, while new claims for unemployment benefits increased by a more moderate 34% during the same period." There were 15,400 new claims for unemployment benefits in December, down from 16,000 in November. There were 86,000 total claims for unemployment benefits in December, down 3% from 89,500 in November. "The trend is in line with the changes in economic indicators as reported by the Central Bureau of Statistics," the NII said in its report. "In the beginning of the year, the majority of economic indicators were falling steeply, while in the past couple of months exports of goods, industrial production and imports of raw materials expanded nicely." The unemployment rate averaged 7.7% in 2009, compared with 6.1% in 2008, the statistics bureau said in its year-end report last week. The average unemployment rate in OECD countries was 8.2% last year. A survey conducted by the Jobmaster human-resources Web site found that three out of four employers plan to increase their workforce in 2010. The survey of 700 companies and employers across a variety of sectors showed that 74% expect to hire more workers this year, 8% believe they will have fewer employees, 12% anticipate the same number of workers and 6% had not yet made a decision on their hiring policy. Employers in the hi-tech and software, finance, advertising and marketing, and industrial production sectors said they expected to hire new workers this year. Employers in the insurance, clothing and fashion, and law sectors said they would probably hire fewer workers.