The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits dropped significantly last week, a sign of a strong job market despite evidence of tepid economic growth in the opening months of 2015.

The Labor Department says weekly applications for jobless aid fell 20,000 to a seasonally adjusted 268,000. The decrease shows that a slowdown in manufacturing and construction has failed to spook employers, who may be anticipating a strong spring rebound after a bleak winter.

The four-week average, a less volatile measure, tumbled 14,750 to 285,500. Over the past 12 months, the average has fallen 11.7 percent.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. The relatively low average shows that employers are holding onto workers and may increase hiring. Applications below 300,000 are generally consistent with solid monthly job gains.