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Unemployment benefit filings down by 5,000 last week

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WASHINGTON (AP) - Fewer Americans sought unemployment benefits last week, indicating companies continue to hire at a modest but steady pace.

The Labor Department says weekly applications for unemployment benefits fell 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 366,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, dropped to 350,500, the lowest in nearly five years. The average is low because of seasonal factors, which reduced applications sharply last month.

Weekly applications are a proxy for layoffs. When layoffs decline, net hiring typically rises.

The four-week average of applications has dropped nearly 6 percent in the past three months. At the same time, hiring has picked up: Employers added an average of 200,000 jobs a month from November through January.

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