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Applications for US unemployment benefits fall to 304,000, close to a 7-year low

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WASHINGTON - Fewer people sought U.S. unemployment benefits last week, driving down the level of applications to nearly the lowest in seven years.

The Labor Department says weekly applications for unemployment aid dropped 11,000 to a seasonally adjusted 304,000. That's not far from a reading of 298,000 two months ago, which was the lowest since 2007, before the Great Recession began.

The four-week average, a less volatile measure, dipped 3,500 to 311,500, the second-lowest level since August 2007. Applications are a proxy for layoffs, so the low readings indicate that employers are letting go of fewer workers.

The figures are the latest sign that the job market is steadily improving. Employers are adding jobs at a healthy clip and the unemployment rate is at a 5 1/2-year low.

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