"It's not just the jobless claims numbers on their own," said Brian Gendreau, market strategist at Cetera Financial Group. "They're coming on the back of . . . manufacturing and service-sector reports that were better than people expected this week."
The Standard & Poor's 500 index climbed 10.41 points to 1,461.40. The Nasdaq composite rose 14.23 points to 3,149.46.
The job-market report helped drive the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note up to 1.67 percent from 1.62 percent late Wednesday. Traders tend to sell Treasuries following better economic news.
The Commerce Department said that orders to U.S. factories came in better than forecast, even though the 5.2 percent drop in orders was the biggest in more than three years.
Costco and other retail chains reported September sales that came in ahead of Wall Street's estimates. Costco gained $1.86 to $101.48. Target rose 56 cents to $63.65.
The stock market barely moved following the release of the Federal Reserve's minutes from its meeting last month, when the Fed hatched a new open-ended program to spend $40 billion a month on mortgage bonds. The minutes revealed that all but one member of the Fed's interest-rate committee voted in favor of the bond-buying effort.
The key event this week will come Friday morning when the Labor Department issues its monthly jobs report. Economists forecast that the unemployment rate inched up to 8.2 percent in September from 8.1 percent in August.
The major stock indexes have climbed steadily higher to start October. The Dow rose 78 points Monday after the Institute for Supply Management said its gauge of manufacturing rose in September for the first time in four months. For the month, the Dow is up 1 percent and the S&P 500 is up 1.4 percent.
Among other stocks making big moves:
Google rose $5.55 to $768.05. The Internet giant and U.S. publishers announced they had settled a seven-year dispute over Google's book-scanning project.
Sprint Nextel sank 2 percent, or 11 cents, to $5.09. Reports said the wireless carrier may launch a competing bid for MetroPCS Communications. That would pit Sprint against Deutsche Telekom, which plans to merge MetroPCS with its T-Mobile USA unit.
Avery Dennison's stock dropped following news that 3M Co. dropped plans to buy Avery Dennison's office and consumer products division. The Department of Justice had threatened to block the deal, saying that the sale to 3M would curtail competition in the market for sticky labels. Avery Dennison lost $1.38 to $30.07.