Applications for unemployment aid drop for third week

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Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week, the third drop in the past four weeks and a sign that the job market is slowly improving.

The Labor Department says weekly claims for jobless aid dipped by 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 420,000 in the week ending Dec. 11.

The four-week average of claims, a less volatile measure, fell for the sixth straight week to 422,750. That’s the lowest level since August 2008, just before the financial crisis intensified with the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

Weekly first-time applications below 425,000 tend to signal modest job growth. But economists say applications would need to dip consistently to 375,000 or below to indicate a significant decline in unemployment. Applications for unemployment benefits peaked during the recession at 651,000 in March 2009.