By John S. McClenahen Initial claims for unemployment insurance across the U.S. fell by an unexpectedly large 43,000 last week and came to rest at 317,000, their lowest level since the summer, the U.S. Labor Department reported on Dec. 16. The department's four-week moving average of initial claims, which smoothes out week-to-week variations and is considered a better indicator of what's happening to payrolls, also fell last week. The average was 337,750, some 4,500 less than the previous week's revised average of 342,250. U.S. housing starts, a key component in sustaining the country's recovery from the 2001 recession, slowed significantly in November. Starts for privately owned housing were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.771 million, 13.1% below the revised October rate of 2.039 million, the U.S. Commerce Department and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development jointly reported on Dec. 16. Starts of single-family homes were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.448 million last month, 11.7% below the revised October rate of 1.64 million. Starts last month in multifamily dwellings of five or more units were at a rate of 288,000, down 19.3% from October's revised rate of 357,000.