WASHINGTON -- Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week, partly reversing a sharp jump in applications the previous week.
The Labor Department said Thursday that the number of people applying for unemployment benefits dropped 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 403,000 in the week ending April 16. The decline comes after applications rose 31,000 a week earlier.
Applications near 375,000 are consistent with sustainable job growth. Applications peaked during the recession at 659,000.
The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose for the second straight week to 399,000. That's about 10,000 higher than it was a month ago.
The average has fallen about 7 percent since late January, but applications have plateaued in recent weeks. Most economists expect applications to continue declining as the economy improves.
Businesses have stepped up hiring, adding more than 200,000 jobs for the second straight month in March. That's the biggest two-month hiring spree in five years. The unemployment rate fell to 8.8 percent last month, the lowest level in two years.
The total number of people receiving unemployment benefits ticked down to 3.7 million. But that doesn't include millions of the unemployed who are getting benefits under emergency programs enacted by Congress during the recession. Including those programs, 8.3 million people received unemployment benefits during the week ending April 2, the latest data available. That's a drop of more than 200,000 from the previous week.