WASHINGTON (AP) - Fewer Americans sought unemployment aid last week, reducing the average number of weekly applications last month to a five-year low. The drop shows that fewer layoffs are strengthening the job market.
The Labor Department said today that applications fell 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 332,000. That cut the four-week average to 346,750, the lowest since March 2008, just several months after the Great Recession began.
The report "provides further evidence of a gradual strengthening in labor market conditions," Paul Dales, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, said in a note to clients.
Applications are a proxy for layoffs. They have fallen nearly 13 percent since November.
At the same time, net hiring has picked up. Employers have added an average of 200,000 jobs per month from November through February, up from about 150,000 a month in the previous four months.
The unemployment rate fell to a four-year low of 7.7 percent in February from 7.9 percent the previous month.
About 5.6 million people received benefits in the week ended Feb. 23, the latest data available. That's about 220,000 more than the previous week.