The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell by 27,000 last week, an indication that hiring could improve.

The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications dropped to a seasonally adjusted 341,000, the lowest level in three weeks.

"If we look at a smooth number like the four week moving average, it's right at the low end of the range since the end of the recession in mid-2009," said senior U.S. economist Carl Riccadonna. "This is a very positive development for the labor market if it can be sustained."

The snowstorm that hit the northeast this past weekend had limited impact on the latest figures.

The report covers the week ending Feb. 9, before the storm hit. The Labor Department said it estimated figures for two states, including Connecticut where the storm closed state offices. Illinois also didn't provide data.

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