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aid applications plummet to 346,000

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(AP photo)
In this Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, photo, Philadelphia police recruiting officer Samuel Cruz, right, talks with Ismail Azeer of Carteret, N.J., at the Edison Career Fair job fair in the Iselin section of Woodbridge Township, N.J. The number of Americans seeking U.S. unemployment benefits fell sharply last week to a seasonally adjusted 346,000, suggesting March's weak month of hiring may be a temporary slowdown. Employers added only 88,000 jobs in March after averaging 220,000 the previous four months. The drop in unemployment benefits suggests hiring could pick up again in April.

WASHINGTON –The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell sharply last week to a seasonally adjusted 346,000, suggesting March’s weak month of hiring may have been a temporary slowdown.

Unemployment aid applications dropped by 42,000 last week, the Labor Department said Thursday. The steep decline reversed sharp gains over the previous two weeks and brought the level back to a point that signals stronger job growth.

The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose 3,000 to 358,000.

The data have been volatile in the past two weeks largely because of the Easter holiday, a department spokesman said. The timing of the holiday changes from year to year. That makes it difficult to adjust for school holidays and other changes that can cause temporary layoffs.

Applications had jumped by 31,000 two weeks ago to 388,000, the highest level in four months.

The unemployment rate fell to a four-year low of 7.6 percent last month, down from 7.7 percent in February. However, the rate fell only because more people stopped looking for work and were no longer counted as unemployed.

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