Stocks close higher on better job market news

NEW YORK (AP) ? Stocks are closing higher on encouraging economic reports. The number of people that applied for unemployment benefits dropped last week to the lowest level since April 2008, in the latest sign that the job market is healing.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 62 points Thursday, or less than 1 percent, to 12,170.

The S&P 500 index rose 10 points, also less than 1 percent, to 1,254, while the Nasdaq was up 21, or less than a percent, at 2,599.

Applications for unemployment fell for the third week in a row. The Conference Board also reported that its measure of future economic activity had a big increase in November. It was the second straight gain, signaling that the U.S. economy was picking up some speed.