By Robbie Owens

FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – The Labor Department says the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level in more than four years. The decline of 30,000 claims takes the number down to 339,000. Stocks initially rallied after another set of better-than-expected numbers. But, the Dow couldn’t hold on to the gains, closing down nearly 20 points.

Still, in an economy driven by consumer spending experts say consumer confidence matters.

“When people feel good, they are willing to spend more money, rather than hold their money,” says University of Texas at Arlington Economics Professor Roger Meiners. “If you’re afraid of the future, and afraid of not having a job, you’re going to save your money…versus if you think times are going to be good in the future, you’ll spend more, especially on big ticket items, new appliances, or maybe even a new car. ”

Some experts are already predicting a healthy holiday shopping season and ‘help wanted’ signs are popping up in store windows. But, the growth isn’t limited to seasonal positions.

“No, we’re hiring people that are going to be with us hopefully, for a long tenure, we want long term employees,” says Kevin Hillsbery, General Manager of a new Houlihans restaurant set to open next week in the busy Alliance area of North Fort Worth. Hillsbery says the new eatery has put almost a hundred people to work. “I’m excited. The energy is there. People are wanting to work– that growth is coming back. People are excited,” says Hillsbery. “They want to be with certain companies and that’s what we’ve got in our restaurant, now, we got the employees that want to be here, which is awesome. ”

Stay-at-home Mom Heather Hadaway says she’s not looking for a job—just bargains. But, she, too, has noticed that lots of stores are hiring—which makes her more optimistic about the overall economy.

“We were at the Northeast Mall, Friday, I think, and in pretty much in every window, there were ‘help wanted’ [signs] for the holiday season,” says Hadaway.

Still, the overall economic picture remains mixed, says Professor Meiners, with the recovery moving at a snail’s pace. But, North Texas is still faring better than most of the nation and “every sign of somebody looking for workers is important and you certainly don’t want people giving up and thinking that there’s nothing out there for them.”

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