Summary Box: Layoffs ease, home building increases

LAYOFFS EASE: Unemployment benefit applications fell for the second time in the past three weeks, according to the Labor Department. That's a positive sign that layoffs are slowing.

HOME BUILDING UP: Home construction rose last month and housing permits, a gauge of future construction, hit its highest level since December, the Commerce Department said. But those gains were largely due to apartment construction, not much-needed single-family homes.

STILL WEAK: The job market is still weak compared to earlier this year and home building is coming off of the worst two years on records dating back five decades.