By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABERWASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ APPLICATIONS DROP: Weekly US unemployment benefit applications dropped 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 332,000. The fifth decline in six weeks also lowered the average number of weekly applications to a five-year low. FEWER LAYOFFS: The drop shows that fewer layoffs are strengthening the job market. Applications for unemployment aid are a proxy for layoffs. The decline suggests companies aren't worried that business might fall off in the near future. MORE JOB GAINS: The four-week average of applications has dropped 13 percent since mid-November. At the same time, net hiring has picked up.