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More people sought unemployment aid last week

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By Chritopher S. Rugaber

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of people seeking unemployment benefits rose last week. But the rise comes after applications hit their lowest level in nearly three years, and economists expect further declines as the economy improves.

Applications rose by 26,000 to a seasonally adjusted 397,000 during the week ended March 5, the Labor Department said Thursday.

The latest report covers the week after the Presidents' Day holiday, when many government offices were closed. Applications usually rise in weeks following holiday-shortened weeks.

Applications below 425,000 signal modest job growth. But they need to fall consistently below 375,000 to signal a sustained decline in the unemployment rate. Unemployment benefit applications peaked during the recession at 651,000.

The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose to 392,250. The average fell to its lowest level since July 2008 two weeks ago.

Companies are hiring more, after months of sluggish job creation. Employers added 192,000 jobs last month, the most in nearly a year. The unemployment rate ticked down to 8.9 percent, the lowest level since April 2009.


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