Investors eyed a fifth day of gains in light volume ahead of the Christmas holiday. Thursday's session will end at 1 p.m. EST, and markets will be closed on Friday.
Data showed initial jobless claims fell more than forecast last week to the lowest tally since September 2008, while a separate report showed durable goods orders, excluding transportation, surged 2.0 percent, beating expectations.
The improvement in the jobs numbers, while slow, is actually better than it was during the last two jobless recoveries earlier this decade and in the early 1990s, said Michael Sheldon, chief market strategist at RDM Financial in Westport, Connecticut.
This provides some hope that the jobs picture may start to strengthen sooner than many on Wall Street and Main Street expect.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> added 39 points, or 0.37 percent, to 10,505.44. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> put on 3.89 points, or 0.35 percent, to 1,124.48. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> rose 10.29 points, or 0.45 percent, to 2,279.93.
Healthcare was the lone S&P sector in the negative after the U.S. Senate approved an overhaul measure Thursday morning.
Health insurer Cigna Corp lost 1.1 percent to $36.07, and the Morgan Stanley Healthcare Payor index <.HMO> fell 0.5 percent.
Health insurers and related stocks have rallied recently as legislation appeared less ominous that originally feared for the sector. But the Senate health bill must be reconciled with the measure approved by the House of Representatives, adding uncertainty.
A weak U.S. dollar <.DXY> helped push commodity prices higher, giving a lift to resource shares. Nucor Corp gained 2 percent to $47.
(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)