US claims for unemployment benefits dropped to a nine-month low last week, a government report has shown, suggesting the labour market recovery is gaining momentum.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 23,000 to a seasonally adjusted 381,000, the Labor Department said, the lowest since late February. That was below economists' expectations for a fall to 395,000.
The report, coming on the heels of data last week showing a rise in hiring and a sharp drop in the unemployment rate to 8.6 per cent in November, pointed to some healing in a sector that has been the Achilles heel of the economy's recovery.
Claims were the latest data to suggest an acceleration in economic growth in the current quarter after output expanded at a two per cent annual rate in the July-September period.
"It looks as if the US labour market does not know how to spell the word euro contagion," said Cary Leahey, economist at Decision Economics in New York. "This is a good report ... adds to the sense that the job market continues to brighten, though very slowly."
The US is a relatively strong spot as much of the global economy slows and parts of the Eurozone are already in recession. The European Central Bank has cut interest rates by a quarter of a point a record low one per cent.
There are fears that Europe's debt crisis could slow the US economic recovery.