Weekly U.S. unemployment claims fall

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid fell to a seasonally adjusted 340,000 last week, driving down the four-week average to its lowest level in five years. The drop is a positive sign ahead of Friday’s report on February job growth.

Applications for benefits fell 7,000 in the week ended March 2, the Labor Department said Thursday. That’s near five-year lows reached in January. And the four-week average, a less volatile measure, dropped to 348,750. That’s the lowest since March 2008, just a few months into the Great Recession.

Weekly applications are a proxy for layoffs.

When they fall, it suggests that companies are shedding fewer jobs. More hiring may follow.

The decline adds to other evidence that hiring may have been better last month than economists forecast. Analysts predict that employers added 152,000 jobs, according to a survey by FactSet. That’s about the same as in January. The unemployment rate is projected to fall to 7.8 percent from 7.9 percent.

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