WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell further last week, ending the year on a three-month run of declines that point to stronger hiring in 2012.

Weekly applications dropped by 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 372,000 last week, the Labor Department said. That's 11 percent lower than the same time last year and a positive sign ahead of Friday's important read on December job growth.

The four-week average, which smooths fluctuations, fell to 373,250 — the lowest level since June 2008.

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