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Americans stepped up spending at retail businesses in May at the best pace in three months, fueled by more car purchases. The gain shows consumers remain resilient despite higher taxes and could drive faster growth later this year.
The Commerce Department says retail sales increased 0.6 percent in May from April. That's up from a 0.1 percent gain the previous month.
The April gain was led by a 1.8 percent jump in auto sales, the biggest increase in six months. Sales were also up at hardware and general merchandise stores but down at furniture and appliance stores.
Excluding volatile autos, gas and building supplies, core retail sales rose 0.3 percent, slightly higher than the 0.2 percent April increase.
Meanwhile, the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits dropped 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 334,000 last week, a hopeful sign that steady job gains will continue.
The Labor Department says the four-week average, a less volatile measure, decreased 7,250 to 345,250. Both figures are only about 7,000 above their levels of a month ago, which were the lowest in five years.
Applications are a proxy for layoffs. A decline suggests that companies are cutting fewer jobs. Since January, applications have fallen 6.5 percent.
At the same time, hiring has been steady. Employers added 175,000 jobs in May, the department said last week. That nearly matched the monthly average for the previous year. The unemployment rate ticked up to 7.6 percent.
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