Employers are continuing to hire at a healthy pace.  The number of people seeking unemployment benefits in the United States fell to a four-year low last week.  Weekly applications dropped 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 357,000 according to the Labor Department.  That's the fewest since April 2008. 

In New Jersey, initial claims fell sharply (16%) to the lowest March reading since 2007 and the lowest of any week since May 2008.  The number of applications has fallen for five consecutive weeks.  Experts attribute the numbers to fewer layoffs in the hotel, restaurant, manufacturing, retail, construction and health care industries.

Nationally, the four-week average fell to 361,750 also the lowest in four years, dropping the average nearly 13 percent in the past six months.  When unemployment benefit applications drop consistently below 375,000, it usually signals that hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate. 

The news is promising as the nation awaits Friday's report on job growth in March.  Employers added an average of 245,000 jobs per month from December through February.  Meanwhile, the unemployment rate has fallen from 9.1 percent in August to 8.3 percent in February.  That's the lowest in three years.