The number of people continuing to receive benefits fell about 100,000 to just under 5 million in the week ended Oct. 27, the latest data available. Some of those no longer receiving benefits may have gotten jobs. But many have used up all the benefits available.
The economy appears to have grown faster over the summer than first thought, based on a handful of positive September reports on inventory growth and trade released this month. Many economists now predict growth at an annual rate of roughly 3 percent in the July-September quarter, up from the initial estimate of 2 percent reported last month.
The government releases its second estimate for third-quarter growth on Nov. 29.
Still, many economists say the economy is growing in the current October-December quarter at a weak annual rate below 2 percent.
The storm combined with cautious consumers to lower retail sales in October. Consumers may also be holding back because of anxiety over big tax increases and spending cuts — known as the "fiscal cliff" — that will take effect in January unless Congress and the White House reach a budget deal by then. Many companies are likely to scale back hiring and investment, too, until the fiscal cliff debate is resolved.