Fresh data shows the nation's labor market is continuing to improve, albeit modestly. The number of people filing new claims for unemployment fell to a seasonally adjusted 432,000 for the week ending Dec. 26, the Labor Department reported Thursday, down 22,000 from the previous week's 454,000.Economists had expected claims to rise to 460,000 from a reading of 452,000 in the previous week, according to Briefing.com. The four-week moving average, viewed by many economists as a better gauge of unemployment trends, fell to 460,250, a decrease of 5,500 from the previous week's revised average of 465,750, the Labor Department reported.

%%DynaPub-Enhancement class="enhancement contentType-HTML Content fragmentId-1 payloadId-61603 alignment-right size-small"%% In addition, the government said, the number of unemployed people collecting jobless benefits fell 57,000 to 4.98 million for the week ending Dec. 19, while the four-week average of continuing claims fell 122,500 to 5.1 million. The data suggests that fewer employers are cutting jobs and some may even be hiring.

Holiday Shopping Ended in a Rush

The latest drops in new and continuing claims for unemployment benefits is a bit of good news showing the nation's economy is slowly recovering. Though snow storms prevented many holiday shoppers from getting to malls and stores on the weekend before Christmas, sales data shows that many consumers made up for it with purchases in the days just before the holiday, as well as on the day after.

Retail sales increased a 8.8% in the week ending Saturday, compared to the same period a year ago, even as shoppers made fewer trips to malls, according to data compiled by ShopperTrak. The supplier of retail-sales information reported that four of the top seven shopping days of the holiday season occurred last week.

Revised data released last week showed that the economy grew by 2.2% in the third quarter, more modestly than first reported. Nevertheless, the rise in gross domestic product was partly the result of greater consumer demand for products and services, a sign that households are feeling more confident about the economic recovery. Consumer purchases are key to growth in the nation's economy.

The Labor Department will release its next overall employment report on Jan. 8 when it reports data from December, including the latest tally of the nation's unemployment rate. Earlier this month, the agency reported that in November, the U.S. jobless rate fell to 10% from 10.2% in October, a 26-year high.

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