The Dow and the S&P 500 rose for a third day on Thursday after data showing weekly claims for jobless benefits hit a 3-1/2 year low, pointing to continued gradual improvement in the economy.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> gained 17.33 points, or 0.14 percent, to 12,125.07. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> gained 1.86 points, or 0.15 percent, to 1,245.58. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> gained 6.45 points, or 0.25 percent, to 2,584.42.

(Reporting By Edward Krudy; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)