WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits fell last week.<br />
The Labor Department says weekly applications for unemployment aid dipped 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 302,000.<br />
The four-week average, a less volatile measure, dropped 3,000 to 309,000, the level since June 2007, about five months before the start of the Great Recession.<br />
Applications are a proxy for layoffs, a sign that they expect economic growth to continue. When businesses are confident enough to keep staff, they are also likely to hire more people.<br />
Hiring is at its healthiest clip since the late 1990s and the 6.1 percent unemployment rate is at a 5 1/2-year low. Employers added 288,000 jobs in June, the fifth straight month of job gains above 200,000.
A blustery winter storm dumped snow and ice across the West on Wednesday, making driving treacherous in the mountains from California to the Rockies and forcing residents and party-goers in some usually sun-soaked cities to bundle up for a frosty New Year's.