Labor Department Reports 382,000 Unemployment Claims Last Week

WASHINGTON -- Fewer Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, extending a multi-week downward trend that gives hope employers will continue new hiring.

The Labor Department says the number of people seeking benefits dropped 10,000 to 382,000 in the week ending April 2. However, that 392,000 was revised upward by 4,000 from initial reports.

Even so, benefit claim reporting for the week ending April 2 showed the third drop in claims in four weeks. The four-week average of applications, a less volatile measure, declined to 389,500.

Applications near 375,000 are consistent with a sustained increase in hiring. Applications, which reflect the pace of layoffs, peaked during the recession at 659,000.

The number of people seeking benefits has fallen for several months. The four-week average has dropped by 28,750, or nearly 7 percent, in the past eight weeks. At the same time, businesses are stepping up hiring.

Employers added a net total of 216,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department said last week, and the unemployment rate fell from 8.9 percent to 8.8 percent. Private employers added more than 200,000 jobs in both February and March, the biggest two-month gain since 2006.

The number of people collecting benefits also dropped. The total dipped slightly to 3.7 million during the week ending March 19, one week behind the applications data. That's the lowest total since October 2008. But that doesn't include millions of people receiving aid under the emergency unemployment benefit programs put in place during the recession.

Overall, 8.5 million people received unemployment benefits in the week ending March 19, the latest data available. That's down sharply from the previous week, when nearly 8.8 million people collected benefits.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.