WASHINGTON - The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits fell last week, a steady decline that suggests a strengthening job market.
The Labor Department says weekly applications for unemployment aid dipped 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 302,000.
The four-week average, a less volatile measure, dropped 3,000 to 309,000, the level since June 2007, about five months before the start of the Great Recession.
Applications are a proxy for layoffs, a sign that they expect economic growth to continue. When businesses are confident enough to keep staff, they are also likely to hire more people.
Hiring is at its healthiest clip since the late 1990s and the 6.1 percent unemployment rate is at a 5 1/2-year low. Employers added 288,000 jobs in June, the fifth straight month of job gains above 200,000.