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US Households Getting Richer

A measure of U.S. wealth shows Americans are getting richer for the first time in two years - lending support to the idea that the U.S. economy is moving toward a recovery.

The Federal Reserve (U.S. central bank) said Thursday that the net worth of U.S. households increased by a total of $2 trillion for the April through June period.

Net worth is a measure of household assets after subtracting debts.

Fed officials say the increase was due to rising home prices and gains by the U.S. stock market, and that many Americans are using their increased wealth to pay debts.

Earlier, a Labor Department report showed the number of workers filing for unemployment benefits for the first time declined last week to the lowest level since early July. Another report by the U.S. Commerce Department said the number of new houses under construction jumped 1.5 percent to its highest level in nine months.

Two other developments are also giving investors and officials reason to believe the American economy is improving.

A branch of the Federal Reserve in Philadelphia reported that manufacturing in the region expanded at the fastest pace since the recession began.

And one of the world's biggest package delivery companies said it sees encouraging signs for the overall economy.

U.S.-based FedEx said earnings fell 53 percent for the three months ending in August, but that shipping orders are improving.

Many economists look at FedEx and rival delivery company United Parcel Service as indicators of economic health because consumers and businesses send more packages when they believe economic conditions are good.

Earlier this week, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the recession "is very likely over." But he also warned it will take time for many Americans to feel relief.

Thursday's Labor Department report did find reason to remain cautious.

Officials said the total number of Americans continuing to file for unemployment benefits rose to 6.2 million.