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US labor market data suggest economy strengthening

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WASHINGTON - The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits last week fell and planned layoffs hit a 13-1/2 year low in December, adding to a range of data that have suggested the economy is gaining steam.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 330,000 in the week ended Jan. 4, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Economists had expected them to fall to just 335,000.

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