Fewer people signed up for jobless benefits last week, an encouraging sign that most companies aren’t resorting to large-scale layoffs as the country copes with mounting problems in the housing and credit markets. The Labor Department reported Wednesday that new applications filed for unemployment insurance dropped by a seasonally adjusted 11,000 to 330,000 for the week ending Nov. 17. It was the lowest level since the beginning of November. The 330,000 level of claims was in line with economists’ forecasts. A year ago, new claims for unemployment insurance stood at 322,000. The four-week moving average of claims, which smooths out week-to- week volatility, dipped last week to 329,750, a decrease of 750 from the previous week. It marked the lowest level since late October. A year ago, the four-week average of claims was 319,500. So far, decent job creation and wage growth have helped to offset some of the negative forces hitting some people, problems ranging from weaker home values to hard-to-get credit. The national civilian unemployment rate – now at 4.7percent of the labor force – is considered low by historical standards. The jobless rate is expected to slowly climb in the coming months as the economy loses steam.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREPettersson scores another winner, Canucks beat Kings“We continue to believe that most statistical and anecdotal evidence continue to point to a relatively healthy labor market,” said Omair Sharif, an economist at RBS Greenwich Capital. In other economic news, a gauge of future business activity suggested the economy’s growth in the months ahead could slow even more than anticipated. The Conference Board reported that its index of leading indicators fell 0.5 percent in October, after edging up 0.1 percent in September. The layoffs report also showed that the number of people continuing to collect unemployment benefits, however, rose by 7,000 to 2.57 million for the week ending Nov.10, the most recent period for which that information is available. A year ago, continuing claims stood at 2.43 million. On Wall Street, the layoffs failed to ease investors’ anxieties about fallout from the housing collapse. The Dow Jones industrial average plunged 211.10 points to close at 12,799.04. The state of the nation’s employment climate is a crucial factor in determining whether the economy will, in fact, weather the stresses from the housing slump and credit crunch.