WASHINGTON - The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits fell to the lowest level in seven years last week, a sign the job market is steadily improving.
The Labor Department says weekly unemployment benefit applications dropped 24,000 to 297,000, the fewest since May 12, 2007. The four week average, a less volatile measure, dipped 2,000 to 323,250.
Applications are a proxy for layoffs, so the decline is evidence that employers are cutting fewer jobs. Weekly applications topped 650,000 in March 2009, during the Great Recession.
Fewer people are also receiving benefits each week. The number of recipients fell to 2.67 million, the fewest since Dec. 1, 2007, when the recession began.
As applications have declined, hiring has picked up. Employers added the most jobs in 2 1/2 years in April.