The Labor Department said first-time unemployment claims for the week that ended Jan. 12 fell by 37,000 to 335,000, the lowest figure since November 2007.
The Commerce Department said housing starts rose sharply in 2012, climbing 28.1 percent over 2011. Housing starts are a leading index, as a home sale often is followed by purchase of furniture, appliances, lawn mowers and other household items.
By close of trading, the Dow Jones industrial average added 84.79 points or 0.63 percent to 13,596.02. The Nasdaq composite index added 18.46 points or 0.59 percent to 3,136. The Standard and Poor's 500 gained 8.31 points or 0.56 percent to 1,480.94.
On the New York Stock Exchange, 2,301 stocks advanced and 727 declined on a volume of 3.7 billion shares traded.
The 10-year treasury note fell 17/32 to yield 1.883 percent.
Against the dollar, the euro rose to $1.3378 from Wednesday's $1.3289. The dollar gained against the yen, hitting 89.90 yen from 88.38 yen.
In Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 index gained 0.09 percent, 9.20 points, to 10,609.64.
In London, the FTSE 100 index added 0.46 percent, 28.38 points, to 6,132.36.