US unemployment aid applications drop to 339K

WASHINGTON - The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid fell last week to a seasonally adjusted 339,000, the second-lowest level in more than five years. The decline suggests hiring is improving from last month's sluggish pace.

The Labor Department says applications for unemployment aid dropped by 16,000. The four-week average declined 4,500 to 357,500.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. Declines in applications signal that companies are cutting fewer jobs. Still, layoffs are only half of the equation. Businesses also need to be confident enough in the economic outlook to step up hiring.

In March, employers added only 88,000 jobs. That was a sharp drop from the previous four months, when hiring averaged 220,000 per month.

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