WASHINGTON (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 ahead of May’s jobs report, to be released next 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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