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December 28, 2012

U.S. jobless aid applications down

WASHINGTON — The average number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits over the past month fell to the lowest level since March 2008, a sign that the job market is healing.

The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications dropped 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 350,000 in the week ended Dec. 22. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell to a nearly five-year low of 356,750.

Still, the Christmas holiday may have distorted the figures. A department spokesman said many state unemployment offices were closed Monday and Tuesday and could not provide exact data. That forced the government to rely on estimates. Normally, the government might estimate application data for one or two states. Last week, it had to use estimates for 19.

The estimates are usually fairly accurate, the spokesman said. Even so, the government will likely revise the figures by more than normal next week.

Weekly applications are a proxy for layoffs. They have mostly fluctuated this year between 360,000 and 390,000. At the same time, employers have added an average of 151,000 jobs a month in the first 11 months of 2012. That’s just enough to slowly reduce the unemployment rate.

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