In many rich countries, a person like Tartarini, who has lost his home, his business and his life's savings, might have ended up on the street. Instead, he has managed to keep afloat thanks to friends and community spirit. Italy's extraordinary social safety nets, rooted in centuries of tradition, have helped soften the blow for millions of Italians â¿¿ and, so far at least, insulated the nation from the scenes of explosive unrest that have unfolded in other crisis-hit southern European countries. Italy heads into general elections this weekend that promise to determine what shape these crisis buffers will take in the future.___ Claims for US jobless aid suggest modest hiring WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits jumped 20,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 362,000, though it remains at a level that suggests slow but steady improvement in the job market. The Labor Department said Thursday that the four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose 8,000 to 360,750, the highest in six weeks. A department spokesman said heavy snowstorms in the Northeast didn't affect the total. Applications for unemployment benefits are a proxy for layoffs. Even with last week's jump, they have trended downward recently. The four-week average has declined 7.5 percent since mid-November and fell to a five-year low three weeks ago. Last week's increase puts applications for unemployment benefits back in the 360,000-to-390,000 range, where they have fluctuated since early last year. Since then, employers have added an average of 181,000 jobs a month. ___ US home sales rise to 2nd-highest pace in 3 years WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ U.S. sales of previously occupied homes rose in January to the second-highest level in three years, a sign that the housing market is sustaining its recovery and helping bolster the economy. The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that sales rose 0.4 percent in January compared with December to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.92 million. That was the second-highest sales pace since November 2009, when a temporary home buyer tax credit had boosted sales.