The number of Americans claiming employment insurance for the first time fell for the first week in December, according to a new report released Thursday.

The U.S. Department of Labour said 421,000 men and women sought jobless benefits for the week ending Dec. 4, a drop of 17,000 versus 438,000 for the previous seven-day period.

Better still, the latest jobless claims report represented an improvement of more than 60,000 versus the same period in 2009 when 483,000 Americans filed for employment benefits for the first time.

Using a four-week moving average — a calculation which reduces the effects of short-term factors on the job market — the number of people claiming jobless assistance stood at 427,500 for the Dec. 4 week, a decrease of 4,000 compared to the average of the previous period.


Latest initial jobless claims figures hint at an improving U.S. employment picture. ((Mark Lennihan/Associated Press))

Analysts generally watch the benefits indicator to measure the economy's direction, especially in the retail sectors, and want the figure to drop below 400,000 before expecting the national unemployment rate to fall.

The fact that jobless claims are falling into December — implying that more people have work — could be a sign that the retailers might enjoy a decent Christmas selling season.

The U.S. initial jobless numbers are not all positive however.

The 421,000 claimants in the latest report was 11,000 higher than 410,000 Americans who filed for government employment assistance in the week ended Nov. 20.