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The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits dropped by 19,000 last week, the largest decline in two months, the government reported today.

The Labor Department said the decline pushed the level of unemployment benefits down to 334,000 after claims had unexpectedly jumped by 23,000 the week before.

The four-week moving average for claims, which smooths out week-to-week volatility, dipped slightly to 336,500 last week, a level that was viewed as pointing to improvements in the job market.

The big decrease of 19,000 was the first decline after two consecutive weekly increases and it was the largest drop since a decrease of 27,000 the week of Feb. 5.

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