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Not the best economic news, but we'll take it: The number of people applying for unemployment benefits fell last week to 366,000, the fewest in more than three years, according to the latest set of economic data released by the Labor Department on Thursday.
The last time the number of jobless applications was that low was in May 2008, and the drop suggests the possibility that the nation's unemployment rate, now at 8.6 percent, may continue to drop. The last time that the total number of jobless applications was as low as it was last week, the unemployment rate was at 5.4 percent.
The Associated Press reports that the the four-week average of the weekly data, which helps paint a more realistic picture by smoothing out fluctuations in the numbers, is now at 387,750, which is the lowest four-week average since July 2008. The four-week average has fallen in 10 of the past 12 weeks.
More from the AP: "Applications for unemployment benefits are a measure of the pace of layoffs. Job cuts have fallen sharply since the recession. Employers have been hiring at only a modest pace. But when applications fall below 375,000 — consistently — that usually signals that hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate."
Bloomberg offers a more measured take on the overall economic picture: "Slowing dismissals pave the way for an increase in employment that may help spur consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy, during the holiday shopping season. Nonetheless, the threat of a recession in Europe brought on by its sovereign debt crisis, and political wrangling over the U.S. budget, is restraining companies from expanding staff."