WASHINGTON — Gains in wages and cheaper fuel gave American consumers the means to shop for more holiday gifts in November, propelling the biggest gain in retail sales in eight months and giving the economy a lift.

The 0.7 percent increase in purchases matched the highest estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg and followed a 0.5 percent advance in October that was larger than previously reported, Commerce Department figures showed Thursday in Washington. Demand improved in 11 of 13 major store categories.

A surge in hiring and the lowest gasoline prices in four years are giving households the wherewithal to sustain spending, which accounts for almost 70 percent of the economy. Rising confidence also has put Americans in the mood to shop during the holiday season, helping retailers such as Costco Wholesale and Gap beat analyst sales estimates.

“The consumer is doing pretty well,” said Thomas Simons, an economist at Jefferies in New York, who predicted a 0.5 percent gain in retail sales. “Any money consumers are saving from lower gasoline prices is being deployed elsewhere. The broad-based increase in sales is quite encouraging.”

Last month’s sales gain was the biggest since a 1.5 percent advance in March. The increases at building materials, clothing and department stores were the biggest since April.

The median forecast of 87 economists surveyed by Bloomberg had called for a 0.4 percent advance. Estimates ranged from little changed to an increase of 0.7 percent. Retail sales for October were previously reported as a gain of 0.3 percent.

Other reports Thursday showed fewer Americans filed claims for jobless benefits last week, and the cost of imported goods dropped in November by the most in more than two years.

The Commerce Department’s figures showed sales climbed 1.7 percent at automobile dealers after a 0.8 percent increase the prior month.

Industry figures, the ones used to calculate economic growth, showed sales of cars and light trucks rose to a 17.1 million annualized rate in November from 16.4 million the prior month, according to data from Ward’s Automotive Group. In August, the rate was 17.5 million, the most since January 2006.

“Households are reaping significant disposable income gains each week at current gas prices,” Emily Kolinski Morris, chief economist of Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford, said on a Dec. 2 sales call.

Retail sales excluding autos also increased 0.5 percent, Thursday’s report showed. They were projected to rise 0.1 percent, according to the Bloomberg survey median.

The only two retail categories showing declines last month were service stations and miscellaneous retailers.

Gasoline station sales dropped 0.8 percent as lower gasoline costs depressed receipts. The Commerce Department’s data aren’t adjusted for prices.

Lower fuel prices are freeing up money for consumers to spend elsewhere. Regular gasoline at the pump sold at an average $2.62 a gallon as of Dec. 10, down more than $1 from this year’s high in April, according to AAA, the biggest U.S. auto group.

Excluding autos, gasoline and building materials, which render the figures used to calculate gross domestic product, sales climbed 0.6 percent, the most since June, after a 0.5 percent increase the previous month.

A strengthening job market is one reason that gains are broad-based. Payrolls jumped by 321,000 last month, the most in almost three years, after a 243,000 gain in October. The jobless rate held at a six-year low and average hourly earnings rose by the most since June 2013.

Early discounts prompted consumers to spend on holiday gifts. That helped November same-store sales exceed analysts’ estimates at chains such as L Brands Inc., the owner of the Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works brands, clothing chain Gap and warehouse club Costco.

Better job prospects and cheaper fuel also are buoying sentiment, with the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index hovering close to a seven-year high.

Holiday season sales gains will allow the economy to build on the strength seen earlier in the year. GDP grew at a 3.9 percent annualized rate in the three months ended in September, after a 4.6 percent second-quarter pace that was the fastest since the end of 2011. Household consumption expanded at a 2.2 percent pace.

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