Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits

The number of applications for unemployment benefits dropped by 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 422,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. It was the third drop in four weeks. But the declines follow much bigger increases in April.

Applications dropped to 375,000 in late February — a level consistent with sustainable job growth. But for the past eight weeks, applications have stayed above 400,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell for the second straight week but remained high at 425,500.

Elevated unemployment applications are the latest sign that the economy has hit a soft patch after a strong start this year. Many economists expect May’s jobs report will show hiring slowed last month. The report will be released on Friday.

“Fears will grow that the economy is not just showing slower growth, but actually flattening,” Pierre Ellis, an economist at Decision Economics, wrote in a note to clients.

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