THE number of US workers filing new jobless claims hit a nine-month low last week, and retailers posted their first monthly sales gain in over a year, easing fears recovery from recession would be unsustainable.<br /><br />The Labour Department yesterday said first-time applications for unemployment benefits dropped 33,000 to a seasonally adjusted 521,000 last week, the lowest level since early January. That was below market expectations for 540,000.<br /><br />Separately, September sales at major domestic retailers showed the first monthly increase since August 2008. It was a sign consumer spending has started to recover and the economy was growing again after the worst recession in 70 years.<br /><br />“The labour market is improving, but rather slowly,” said Cary Leahey, economist at Decision Economics. “Both the initial and continuing claims numbers suggest that October ought to be a better month for payrolls than September.”<br /><br />The jobless claims report was a relief after data last week showed US employers cut 263,000 jobs in September, far more than the market was expecting. Data suggests the economy started growing in the third quarter.