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Weekly jobless claims fall 29,000, to 343,000

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell sharply for a fourth straight week, a sign that the job market may be improving.

The Labor Department says weekly applications for unemployment benefits fell 29,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 343,000, the lowest in two months. It is the second-lowest total this year.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs, so the drop indicates that companies are cutting fewer jobs. But employers also need to increase hiring to rapidly push down the 7.7 percent unemployment rate.

Applications spiked five weeks ago because of Superstorm Sandy. The storm's impact has faded. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell 27,000 to 381,500.

Before the storm, applications had fluctuated between 360,000 and 390,000 this year.