The number of people applying for unemployment benefits dropped to its lowest level since May 2008, a hopeful sign that layoffs are declining and hiring is picking up.
The Labor Department says weekly applications for unemployment benefits fell by 19,000 to a seasonally adjusted 366,000 last week. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, dropped for the 10th time in the past 12 weeks, to 387,750. That is the lowest reading for the average since July 2008.
Applications for unemployment benefits are a measure of the pace of layoffs. Job cuts have fallen sharply since the recession, but so far employers are hiring at only a modest pace. When applications fall below 375,000 -- consistently -- that usually signals that hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.