Unemployment aid applications near 4-year low


WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of people seeking unemployment aid neared a four-year low last week, a positive sign that strong hiring could continue in the coming months.

The Labor Department said today that weekly applications for unemployment benefits fell 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 358,000. That's the second-lowest level since April 2008.

The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell to 366,250, the lowest since late April 2008.

"The encouraging U.S. employment news continues," Jennifer Lee, an economist at BMO Capital Markets, wrote in a note to clients. The "job market started February off on a sturdy footing."

When applications fall consistently below 375,000, it generally signals that hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.

Employers added a net gain of 243,000 jobs in January, the biggest gain in nine months. The unemployment rate fell for the fifth straight month to 8.3 percent, the lowest in nearly three years.

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