Fewer Americans than forecast filed applications forunemployment benefits last week, easing concern that post-holidayfirings were on the rise.

Jobless claims plunged by 50,000 to 352,000 in the week endedJan. 14, the lowest level since April 2008, Labor Departmentfigures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 41economists in a Bloomberg News survey projected 384,000. A LaborDepartment spokesman said the decrease reflected the usualvolatility seen during this time of year.

Companies are slowing the pace of firings and beginning to stepup the pace of hiring even as a slump in Europe spurred by adefault crisis may limit U.S. growth. The improvement may be a signthat companies are looking to expand their workforces as salesclimb.

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