In a sign of continuing economic improvement, jobless claims in the U.S. fell last week to the lowest level in nearly four years.
According to data released Thursday by the Labor Department, the number of people seeking unemployment benefits dropped by 13,000 to reach a seasonally adjusted 348,000 - the fourth drop in five weeks and the fewest number of applications since March 2008.
The Associated Press reports the consistent declines suggest that not only are companies laying off fewer workers, but they are beginning to hire as well.
Analysts are hoping the data will translate to an even stronger jobs report for February. Earlier this month, the Labor Department reported a dip in unemployment to 8.3 percent on the addition of 243,000 new jobs in January.
The news was also complimented by signs of recovery in the housing and construction markets, which many analysts have blamed for holding back the wider economic recovery.
A rise in [building] permits suggested that builders were growing more confident," the AP reported. "Builders broke ground on a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 699,000 homes in January, which is up 1.5 percent from December and nearly matches November’s three-year high for starts."