WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid plummeted last week to seasonally adjusted 339,000, the lowest level in more than four years. The sharp drop, if sustained, could signal a stronger job market.
The Labor Department said today that weekly applications fell by 30,000 to the fewest since February 2008. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, dropped by 11,500 to 364,000, a six-month low.
The positive figures follow a report last week that said the unemployment rate fell in September to 7.8 percent. It was the first time since January 2009 that the rate dropped below 8 percent.
A Labor Department spokesman cautioned that the weekly unemployment aid applications can be volatile, particularly at the start of a quarter. And the spokesman said one large state accounted for much of the decline.
Unemployment benefit applications are a proxy for layoffs. When they consistently drop below 375,000, it suggests that hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.
The total number of people receiving benefits also fell. A little more than 5 million Americans received benefits in the week ending Sept. 22, the latest data available. That’s down about 44,000 from the previous week.