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U.S. jobless claims fall to 5-year low

WASHINGTON – The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid fell last week to a seasonally adjusted 324,000, the lowest since January 2008. '

The drop points to fewer layoffs and possibly more hiring.

The Labor Department says weekly applications fell 18,000, the second straight sharp drop. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, plummeted 16,000, to 342,250.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. But fewer job cuts are only one side of the equation: Companies also need to be confident enough to add workers for job growth to pick up and lower the unemployment rate.

Economists forecast that the economy added 160,000 jobs last month. That’s much better than the 88,000 added in March, but below last year’s pace of nearly 185,000 per month.

The government will release the April employment report Friday.

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