First-time claims for unemployment benefits fell last week to their lowest level in four years -- another sign that the economy is picking up steam.
Three hundred and forty-eight thousand people made initial claims for jobless benefits, the Labor Department said, down from 361,000 the previous week.
The figure is now at its lowest mark since March 2008, three months after the Great Recession officially begun, but still six months before the financial crisis.
Last month, employers added 243,000 jobs, the most in nine months, with manufacturers adding 50,000, the most in a year. The unemployment rate dipped to 8.3 percent. The numbers on last week's jobless claims suggest that the pace of hiring has stayed strong in February.
In other good news, Congress Thursday announced a deal to extend the payroll tax cut and extended jobless benefits through the end of the year, potentially avoiding a roughly 0.7 percent hit to GDP, economists estimate.