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WASHINGTON (AP) - The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits declined last week, the latest evidence that a sharp economic slowdown earlier this year hasn't caused employers to cut jobs.

The Labor Department says weekly unemployment benefit applications fell 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 312,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose 2,000 to 314,000.

The average has fallen 9 percent since the beginning of this year. Applications are a proxy for layoffs, so the declines indicate that companies are cutting fewer jobs.

The figures come a day after the government said the economy shrank at a 2.9 percent annual rate in the first three months of the year, the worst reading since early 2009, when the U.S. was mired in the depths of the recession.

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