Applicants listen to a speaker's bull horn instructions for attending...

Applicants listen to a speaker's bull horn instructions for attending a combined Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Harlem Week job and career fair at Columbia University in Manhattan on Aug. 8, 2013. Credit: AP

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell last week to nearly the lowest level in seven years, a sign hiring may be picking up.

The Labor Department says weekly applications for unemployment aid dropped 27,000 to a seasonally adjusted 300,000. That's just above a seven-year low reached three weeks ago. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell to 311,500, the fewest since August, 2007.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs, so the drop suggests companies are cutting fewer jobs. When employers are confident enough to keep staff, they may also step up hiring. That is a good sign before May's jobs report, to be released a week from Friday.

Fewer Americans are also receiving benefits. The number of recipients declined to 2.63 million, the lowest level since November 2007.

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