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Applications for US unemployment benefits decline to 289k; averages at pre-recession levels

In this photo taken Wednesday, July 16, 2014, job seekers check out the opportunities at a Hiring Fair For Veterans in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The Labor Department reports on the number of people who applied for unemployment benefits last week on Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

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In this photo taken Wednesday, July 16, 2014, job seekers check out the opportunities at a Hiring Fair For Veterans in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The Labor Department reports on the number of people who applied for unemployment benefits last week on Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

WASHINGTON - Fewer people sought U.S. unemployment benefits last week, as jobless claims remain at relatively low levels that point toward stronger economic growth.

Weekly applications for unemployment aid fell 14,000 to a seasonally adjusted 289,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The prior week's was revised up slightly to 303,000.

The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell 4,000 to 293,500. That's the lowest average since February 2006, almost two years before the Great Recession began at the end of 2007.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. When employers keep their workers, it suggests potentially rising incomes, increased hiring activity and confidence that the economy is improving.

Employers added a net total of 209,000 jobs in July, the sixth straight month of job gains above 200,000, the government reported Friday.

The recent spurt of hiring has encouraged more people to start looking for work, causing the unemployment rate to inch up to 6.2 per cent from 6.1 per cent. The government only counts people searching for jobs as unemployed.

Still, greater job security and more hiring activity have yet to boost wages by much. Wage growth has slightly outpaced inflation since the recession ended more than five years ago.

But more people with jobs increases the total number of paychecks, which could boost consumer spending and growth

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