The number of people applying for unemployment benefits dropped last week to its lowest level since April 2008, extending a downward trend.

The Labor Department says new applications for unemployment benefits fell last week by 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 364,000. It was the third straight weekly decrease. The four-week moving average, a less volatile measure, dropped to 380,250, the lowest since June 2008. The average has decreased in 11 of the past 13 weeks.

Unemployment applications are a measure of the pace of layoffs. Job cuts have fallen sharply since the recession, though employers have been slow to start hiring. The four-week average is falling near 375,000 — a pace that usually signals that hiring is strong enough to reduce the unemployment rate.

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