WASHINGTON The average number of people seeking unemployment benefits over the past month fell to the lowest level since March 2008, a sign that the job market is healing.
The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications dropped 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 350,000 in the week ended Dec. 22.
The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell to a nearly five-year low of 356,750.
Still, the figures were disrupted by the Christmas holiday. A department spokesman said many state unemployment offices were closed Monday and Tuesday and unable to compile complete data.
Fourteen states provided estimates, and the department estimated the numbers for five additional states.
The government might estimate one or two states in a typical week, but 19 state estimates are unusually high.
Meanwhile, Americans bought new homes last month at the fastest pace in more than two and a half years, further evidence of a sustained housing recovery.
Sales of new homes rose 4.4 percent in November from October to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 377,000, the Commerce Department said Thursday. That’s the fastest pace since April 2010, when a federal tax credit boosted sales.
New-home sales have also increased 15.3 percent over the past year. The improvement comes from depressed levels. Sales remain below the 700,000 that economists consider healthy.
In other economic news, U.S. consumer confidence tumbled in December, driven lower by fears of sharp tax increases and government spending cuts set to take effect next week.
The Conference Board said Thursday that its consumer confidence index fell this month to 65.1, down from 71.5 in November. That’s the second straight decline and the lowest level since August.
The survey showed consumers are slightly more optimistic about current business conditions and hiring. But their outlook for the next six months deteriorated to its lowest level since 2011.