WASHINGTON - The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits plunged 26,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 359,000, a hopeful sign for the job market. It's the lowest level of weekly applications in nine weeks.
The Labor Department says the four-week average, a less volatile measure, declined 4,500 to 374,000. That's the first drop in six weeks.
Weekly unemployment applications are a measure of the pace of layoffs. When they consistently fall below 375,000, it typically indicates that hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.
The weekly figures can be volatile, causing most economists to focus on the four-week average.
Other recent data have shown that layoffs have fallen to the lowest level in a decade. But hiring hasn't picked up enough to quickly lower the unemployment rate.