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US unemployment aid applications plummet to 346,000

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The number of Americans seeking U.S. unemployment benefits fell sharply last week to a seasonally adjusted 346,000, suggesting March's weak month of hiring may be a temporary slowdown.

The Labor Department says weekly unemployment aid applications fell 42,000 last week, reversing sharp gains over the previous two weeks. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose 3,000 to 358,000.

The data have been volatile in the past two weeks largely because of the Easter holiday, a department spokesman says. The timing of the holiday changes from year to year. That makes it difficult to adjust for school holidays that can cause temporary layoffs.

Employers added only 88,000 jobs in March after averaging 220,000 the previous four months. The drop in unemployment benefits suggests hiring could pick up again in April.

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