Applications for US unemployment aid plunged last week to 289,000

Economic Indicators Associated Press

The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits fell sharply last week, a sign that strong hiring will likely continue.

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The Labor Department says weekly applications for unemployment aid dropped 36,000 to a seasonally adjusted 289,000. The drop nearly reversed last month's large increase, which likely occurred because of cold weather and snowstorms.

The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell 3,750 to 302,250. The average has dropped nearly 9 percent in the past year.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. The decline indicates companies are confident enough to hold onto their staffs and hire more workers.

Weekly applications had risen by 40,000 last month. Economists blamed most of that rise on harsh winter weather that closed schools and shut down construction sites, causing temporary layoffs.