Economists see reason for optimism in the latest release from the U.S. Department of Labor. The agency reported that fewer than 300,000 people applied for unemployment benefits during the week ending Aug. 2, a significant decrease form the previous week.

According to the department's data, 289,000 claimed unemployment over the week, a decrease of 14,000 from the week before. That number brought the four-week average down as well, to 293,500. Significantly, the average has not been that low since before the recession. The last time the four-week average dipped to that level was the month ending Feb. 25, 2006, which saw 290,750 claims.

Major progress toward the low average was made in just the last year. At this time in 2013, the weekly jobless claim rate was 335,000.

Despite the drop in jobless benefit claims, the unemployment rate actually rose in July, which economists are taking as another sign of confidence. The rate grew from 6.1 to 6.2 percent over the month, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. With more people actively seeking jobs and fewer collecting unemployment benefits, there may be reason to believe that the economy's recent growth could continue. Still, unemployment in the last four months was lower than it has been since Oct. 2008.

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