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US jobless aid applications fall to 5-year low

WASHINGTON — The average number of people seeking unemployment benefits over the past month fell to the lowest level since March 2008, a sign the job market is healing.

The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications dropped 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 350,000 in the week ended Dec. 22. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell to a nearly five-year low of 356,750.

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Still, the Christmas holiday may have distorted the figures. A department spokesman said many state unemployment offices were closed Monday and Tuesday and could not provide exact data. Normally, the government might estimate application data for one or two states. Last week, it used estimates for 19. The government will probably revise the figures by more than is usual next week.

Weekly applications are a proxy for layoffs. They have mostly fluctuated this year between 360,000 and 390,000.

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