WASHINGTON - The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell 26,000 last week to 319,000, the latest sign that the job market is slowly improving.
The drop follows two weeks of increases that reflected mostly temporary layoffs around the Easter holiday. The holiday can cause an uptick in layoffs of bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other school workers during spring break. Those earlier increases caused the four-week average of applications, a less volatile number, to rise 4,500 to 324,750.
With the impact of the holiday fading, applications are returning to pre-recession levels. The average for April was 312,000 , the fewest since October 2007. The recession officially began in December 2007.
Applications are a proxy for layoffs, and so the decline suggests that companies are cutting fewer jobs.