Published: Jan 19, 2012 7:12 PM EST
Updated: Jan 20, 2012 12:09 AM EST

New claims for unemployment are down to their lowest level in almost four years. And housing stats are also down to a record low.

Analysts are hoping the new unemployment numbers are a sign the job market is strengthening. But the labor department is warning this is a time of year when new claims go up and down as holiday help is let go.

New claims for benefits last week dropped by 50,000 to 352,000, which is the lowest number since April of 2008. The four-week average is at 379,000 now, the second lowest in more than three years. When applications fall consistently below 375,000, it's seen as a sign that hiring is strong enough to lower the overall unemployment rate.

The number of people getting benefits last week totalled 7.8 million people.

Also, just out today are year end housing stats. Construction began on just 428,600 single family homes last year. The fewest on records going back almost fifty years. 606,900 homes overall were started last year. While slightly better than 2010, it's still half the number considered healthy. So the housing market is still years away from full health.

The number of actual purchases is also weak and expected to be the worst on record when compiled. However, for 2012 with what looks like better job prospects and interest rates today as low as they have ever been on a 30 year mortgage, a decrease in unemployment can lead to an increase in housing construction and existing home sales.