FILE - In this Thursday March 13, 2014, file photo, Job seekers line up in the hundreds to attend a marijuana industry job fair hosted by Open Vape, a vaporizer company, in Downtown Denver. The Labor Department releases weekly jobless claims on Thursday, March 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)
WASHINGTON — The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits fell 10,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 311,000, the lowest since late November and a hopeful sign hiring could pick up.
The Labor Department says the four-week average of applications, a less volatile measure, fell 9,500 to 317,750. That is the fourth straight drop and the lowest level in six months. It brings applications in line with pre-recession levels.
The sustained decline suggests companies are confident enough about future growth to keep their staffs. Applications are a proxy for layoffs. Greater business confidence can also lead to more hiring.
About 3.3 million people received benefits in the week ending March 8, the latest data available. That was about 43,000 fewer than the previous week.