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Applications for unemployment aid fall to 319,000

In this April 22, 2014 photo, Bryan Preston of Hannaford supermarkets, left, talks with job seekers during a job fair at Columbia-Greene Community College in Hudson, N.Y. The Labor Department reports the number of people who applied for unemployment benefits last week on Thursday, May 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

In this April 22, 2014 photo, Bryan Preston of Hannaford supermarkets, left, talks with job seekers during a job fair at Columbia-Greene Community College in Hudson, N.Y. The Labor Department reports the number of people who applied for unemployment benefits last week on Thursday, May 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell 26,000 last week to 319,000, the latest sign that the job market is slowly improving.

The drop follows two weeks of increases that reflected mostly temporary layoffs around the Easter holiday.

The holiday can cause an uptick in layoffs of bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other school workers during spring break. Those earlier increases caused the four-week average of applications, a less volatile number, to rise 4,500 to a seasonally adjusted 324,750.

With the effect of the holiday fading, applications are returning to prerecession levels. The average fell in early April to 312,000, the fewest since October 2007. The recession officially began in December 2007.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs, and so the decline suggests that companies are cutting fewer jobs. About 2.69 million people are receiving benefits, 76,000 fewer than in the previous week. That figure has fallen nearly 11 percent in the past year.

An additional 1.3 million people lost benefits when an emergency program that had provided up to 47 extra weeks of aid expired at the end of 2013.

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