WASHINGTON -- 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.
The Labor Department says applications fell 7,000 in the week ended March 2. That's near five-year lows reached in January. And the four-week average, a less volatile measure, dropped 7,000 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.
Economists forecast that employers added 152,000 jobs in February and the unemployment rate dipped to 7.8 percent from 7.9 percent.