Published: Dec 23, 2010 2:48 PM EST
Updated: Dec 23, 2010 11:48 AM EST

WASHINGTON (AP) - Slightly fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week, the second drop in three weeks. That's a sign the job market is slowly healing.

The Labor Department says the number of people seeking benefits edged down by 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 420,000 in the week that ended Dec. 18.

Weekly unemployment applications at around 425,000 signal modest job growth. But economists say applications would need to dip consistently to 375,000 or below to indicate a significant decline in unemployment. Weekly applications peaked during the recession at 651,000 in March 2009.

The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose slightly to 426,000. The average had fallen for six straight weeks to the lowest level in more than two years.

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