LOOKING FOR HELP: The number of Americans applying for unemployment assistance plummeted to a five-year low last week, a sign that the job market may be improving. Applications are a proxy for layoffs.
BIG DROP: Weekly unemployment benefit applications tracked by the Labor Department fell 37,000 to a seasonally adjusted 335,000. That is the lowest level since January 2008, just after the recession began.
HARD TO READ: The applications data can be uneven in January. Job cuts typically spike in the second week of the month as companies lay off temporary workers hired for the winter holidays. The broader trend will become clearer in the coming weeks.