Weekly jobless claims drop, near 400,000 mark

However, the stronger unemployment numbers could be boosted by an increase in retail hiring in advance of the upcoming holiday shopping season.

The retail industry has added 150,900 jobs since October to accommodate holiday shoppers, according to the Chicago consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

The four-week moving average, which is thought to be a better overall gauge than the fluctuating weekly number — was 436,000, a decrease of 7,500 from the previous week's average of 443,500.

The new unemployment numbers came out as congressional lawmakers are sparring over extending unemployment benefits before they expire at the end of the month.

House Democrats forced a vote on a three-month extension of federal benefits last week. Although the extension achieved majority support, it fell short of the two-thirds vote needed to approve it under suspension of House rules.

An estimated 2 million people would see their benefits expire without the extension.