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U.S. unemployment aid applications fall below 300,000

WASHINGTON — The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits slipped below 300,000 last week, after having spiked above that level in the prior week for the first time in nearly three months.

The Labor Department says weekly applications fell 17,000 to a seasonally adjusted 297,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose 4,750 to 299,000.

Applications have been under 300,000 for 11 of the past 12 weeks, an unusually low level that suggests employers plan to add workers and anticipate stronger growth.

Fewer claims for jobless aid have been matched by greater hiring as the unemployment rate has declined to 5.8 percent from 7.2 percent a year ago.

The November jobs report being released Friday is expected to show gains of 225,000 last month, according to the data firm FactSet.