By MARTIN CRUTSINGER, AP Economics Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits edged up slightly last week but remained at a level consistent with modest gains in hiring.
The Labor Department says unemployment benefit applications rose by 2,000 to 366,000. The less volatile four-week average fell by 5,500 to 363,750. That was the lowest level since late March.
Applications have trended lower in the past two months, a sign that companies are laying off fewer workers and hiring is picking up. When applications fall consistently below 375,000, it generally suggests hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.
The economy and hiring improved in July after falling into a midyear slump. Employers added 163,000 jobs last month, the best job growth since February.