By The Associated Press
FEWER CLAIMS: The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid fell 22,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 344,000 and the four-week average of applications dropped for the first time in three weeks.
THE TAKEAWAY: Weekly applications are a proxy for layoffs. When they decline, it suggests companies are cutting fewer workers and may be more willing to hire.
THE OUTLOOK: Stronger hiring is one of the reasons economists expect growth is probably picking up in 2013 after a disappointing October-December quarter, when the economy barely grew.