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US jobless claims at lowest level since 2008

New claims have fallen sharply in recent months, boosting expectations the end of a long cycle of heavy layoffs will lead to more hiring.

US jobless numbers 2012 04-05Enlarge
Job applicants meet potential employers at a job fair in Denver. (John Moore/AFP/Getty Images)

The number of Americans lining up for new jobless benefits dropped to the lowest level in nearly four years last week, according to numbers released Thursday by the Department of Labor.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 357,000, the lowest level since April 2008, Reuters reported.

More from GlobalPost: US jobless claims dip to four-year low

Stocks were little changed on the data, focusing instead on a rise in Spanish bond yields that renewed concerns about the euro zone's financial health, according to the Canadian Business Network.

“The labor market is going to continue to gradually heal, though we have a long ways to go,” Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc., told Bloomberg. “The economy is pulling up pretty well given the headwinds we’re seeing from Europe.”

More from GlobalPost: US consumer confidence jumps dramatically in February

Thursday's claims data showed 7.05 million people were claiming unemployment benefits during the week ended March 17 under all programs. That was 107,760 lower than during the prior week, according to Reuters.

The monthly unemployment report for March is due out Friday, MSNBC reported.