By The Associated PressFEWER SEEK BENEFITS: The outlook for the U.S. job market brightened after a government report showed a sharp drop in the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits. Weekly applications fell 27,000 to 341,000. GOOD SIGN: Economists were encouraged by the decline but want to see the progress sustained and more jobs created. The huge snowstorm that affected the Northeastern states over the weekend could push up applications in the coming weeks. MORE JOBS NEEDED: Falling applications signal fewer layoffs. More hiring usually follows, but not always. A separate government report earlier this week showed that layoffs fell to a 10-year low in December. But overall hiring didn't pick up.