Official figures show that new US claims for unemployment benefits fell to a fresh four-year low last week.

The Labor Department data show that an improvement in the country's jobs market is continuing.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 359,000, the lowest level since April 2008.

The previous week's figure was revised up to 364,000 from the previously reported 348,000.


The four-week moving average for new claims, a measure of labour market trends, declined 3,500 to 365,000.

Separate figures showed that the US economy expanded as expected in the fourth quarter as personal income grew at a much faster pace than previously thought.

Gross domestic product increased at a 3% annual rate, the quickest pace since the second quarter of 2010, the Commerce Department said in its final estimate. The figure was unchanged from last month's estimate and in line with economists' expectations.

But personal income was $13.162 trillion at a seasonally adjusted annual rate, $3.3 billion more than previously reported. Disposable income was $10.6 billion more than previously thought, probably reflecting the strengthening labour market.

Rising incomes should help to cushion consumer spending against surging petrol prices. Spending, which accounts for about 70% of US economic activity, grew at an unrevised 2.1% pace in the fourth quarter.

While the economy grew solidly in the final three months of 2011, momentum has slowed this quarter amid signs of cooling in manufacturing, business spending and a pause in the housing market recovery - even as the jobs market strengthens.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke this week said growth needed to accelerate to bring the unemployment rate down further.