The unemployment rate dropped sharply last month to 9 percent, the lowest level in nearly two years. But the economy generated only 36,000 net new jobs, the fewest in four months. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
WASHINGTON (AP) — Fewer people requested unemployment benefits last week, pushing the four-week average of applications to its lowest level in more than two and a half years.
The Labor Department says the number of laid-off workers applying for unemployment benefits dropped by 22,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 391,000. It was the third drop in the past four weeks.
The four-week average of claims, a less volatile figure, fell to 402,000. That's the lowest level since late July 2008 and a hopeful sign that the job market is slowly improving.
Applications below 425,000 tend to signal modest job growth. But they would need to dip consistently to 375,000 or below to indicate a significant decline in the unemployment rate. Applications for benefits peaked during the recession at 651,000.