Weekly jobless claims drop to 344,000

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WASHINGTON The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment aid fell 22,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 344,000, evidence that the job market may be picking up.

The Labor Department says the four-week average of applications dropped 6,750 to 355,000, the first drop in three weeks.

Weekly applications are a proxy for layoffs. When they decline, it suggests companies are cutting fewer workers and may be more willing to hire.

The four-week average has steadily declined since November. Since then, it has fallen almost 11 percent. At the same time, employers have added an average of 200,000 jobs per month from November through January. That's up from about 150,000 in the previous three months.

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