Fewer people sought unemployment aid last week

By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER, AP Economics Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell further in the final week of 2011, a positive sign for hiring one day ahead of Friday’s December employment report.

The Labor Department says weekly applications dropped 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 372,000 last week. It was the fourth drop in five weeks. The four-week average, which smooths fluctuations, declined to 373,250, the lowest level since June 2008.

When applications drop below 375,000 _ consistently _ they generally signal that hiring is strong enough to reduce the unemployment rate.

Applications have declined steadily over the past three months. The four-week average fell 11 percent in 2011, evidence that companies are laying off fewer workers. But many employers have been slow to add jobs.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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