First-time claims for unemployment insurance payments declinedmore than forecast last week to the lowest level since earlyOctober, adding to evidence the labor market is improving.

Applications for jobless benefits fell by 29,000 to 343,000 inthe week ended Dec. 8, the fewest since reaching a four-year low inthe period ended Oct. 6, Labor Department figures showed today.Economists forecast 369,000 claims, according to the Bloombergsurvey median. The number of people on unemployment benefit rollsdeclined for a fourth straight week.

Jobless claims have dropped 108,000 in the latest four weeksafter a superstorm Sandy-related surge, indicating companies arecomfortable with current staffing levels. To help encourage morehiring, the Federal Reserve said yesterday that it intends to keeppolicy accommodative until unemployment falls to 6.5 percent fromthe current 7.7 percent.

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