The number of people applying for unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level in nine months, evidence that the job market is improving.
The Labor Department says weekly applications dropped by 23,000 to a seasonally adjusted 381,000. That's the lowest number of applications since late February.
The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell for the ninth time in 11 weeks to 393,250. That's the lowest average since early April.
The report comes after other data show employers are stepping up hiring. Last week, the government said the unemployment rate fell to 8.6 percent from 9 percent.
Applications that drop below 375,000 -- consistently -- tend to correlate with a steady decline in the unemployment rate.