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US weekly unemployment benefit claims drop to 326k

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell 2,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 326,000, a sign that layoffs are weighing less on employment and economic growth.

The Labor Department says the less volatile four-week average dropped 13,500 to 335,000.

More than 4.7 million Americans collected benefits at the end of last year, a figure that has declined by almost 1.2 million over the past 12 months. But that number is poised drop by another 1.35 million in upcoming reports. That's because a special federal program expired last month.

The program provided aid to long-term unemployed Americans who exhausted their state benefits. Congress failed this week to renew the program introduced in 2008.

Applications appear to have stabilized near pre-recession levels, a positive sign for job growth going forward.

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