Most economists expect hiring to improve this month from March's low level. Some think net job gains rose to about 150,000. But a higher net gain may be due more to dwindling layoffs than to increased hiring.

A drop in layoffs can make those with jobs feel more confident about keeping them, even when unemployment is high. Layoffs fell in January to their lowest level in the 12 years that the government has tracked the data. When people feel secure in their jobs, they are more likely to spend money and add to economic growth.

More than 5 million Americans received unemployment aid in the week ending April 6, the latest data available. That is about 80,000 fewer than the previous week. Some recipients may no longer receive benefits because they have found jobs. But many have used up all the benefits available to them.

The economy is expected to have grown at a much quicker pace in the January-March quarter. Most economists forecast that growth accelerated to an annual rate of more than 3 percent in the first quarter, up from just a 0.4 percent rate in the fourth quarter.

Many analysts now think growth is slowing in the April-June quarter, in part because of across-the-board government spending cuts that began taking effect March 1. Those cuts may have made businesses nervous about adding jobs.

But the decline in applications also indicates that, so far at least, the across the government spending cuts haven't triggered more layoffs. Many economists say the cuts will likely force government contractors to cut jobs.

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