Jobless aid applications drop sharply

Washington - The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell last week by the most in nearly a year. The figure was a hopeful sign one day before the government releases the April jobs report.

The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly unemployment aid applications fell 27,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 365,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, ticked up to 383,500 last week.

Applications are a measure of the pace of layoffs. When they fall below 375,000, it generally suggests that hiring will be strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.

Last month, applications jumped after steadily declining since the fall. At the same time, hiring slowed. Those figures sparked concerns that the job market was worsening after strong gains during the winter. But some economists said temporary layoffs stemming from the spring holidays might have inflated benefit applications.

Last week's drop reversed the increase during April. Applications are now roughly back at their level four weeks ago. Other recent data have been mixed. A survey by payroll provider ADP, released Wednesday, said businesses cut back on hiring in April.

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