Amid growing economic uncertainties, U.S. workers have unexpectedly ramped up productivity in recent months, even as working hours and labor costs have declined. Here's a look at this week's economic developments and how they may affect your business.

Productivity Up, Costs Down
Worker productivity hit a four-year high in the third quarter, while labor costs retreated for the first time this year, the Labor Department reported on Wednesday.

Measured by employee output per hour, U.S. productivity rose by 4.9 percent, up from 2.2 percent during the previous quarter. The gains reflected a boost in output and a modest decline in working hours. At the same time, labor costs edged down by 0.2 percent, following a 2.2 percent increase earlier this year.

Retail Sales Sluggish
Led by drugstores, sales at the nation's retail chain stores grew by just 1.6 percent in October compared to the same period last year, the International Council of Shopping Centers reported Thursday.

The modest gains were blamed on unseasonably warm weather that kept shopper away from winter-weather clothing stores.

"For the November-December period, we are expecting a marked improvement from the very sluggish September-October performance," Michael Niemira, the trade group's chief economist, said in a statement.

Gas Prices Soar
Average gas prices across the nation jumped by 14.1 cents to $3.013 per gallon last week, a full 81.3 cents higher than the same period last year, the Energy Information Administration reported Wednesday.

Higher prices were reported in every region, including a 17.3 cent increase to $3.037 per gallon in the Midwest, the sharpest week-to-week gain in the country.

Jobless Claims Fall
The number of new claims for unemployment benefits dropped by 13,000 last week to 317,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

The seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate the previous week was unchanged at 1.9 percent, with 2.579 million people filing for benefits.

The biggest declines in new claims last week were in Michigan, Illinois, and South Carolina, while the biggest gains were in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Kentucky.