The number of U.S. workers applying for state unemployment benefits fell last week, the government said on Thursday in a report that still showed underlying weakness in the labor market. 

The number of workers filing initial jobless claims fell by 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 376,000 for the week ended Jan. 19 from 391,000 in the previous week, the Labor Department said. The four-week moving average, which smoothes out weekly gyrations, also fell, dipping to 404,250 in the latest week from 413,000 in the previous week. 

The data showed a stronger labor market than economists polled by Reuters had forecast. The consensus expectation was that initial claims would be 391,000 during the latest week on a seasonally adjusted basis. 

While those numbers suggested some improvement in labor market conditions, the data when left unadjusted for seasonal factors indicated some weakness. 

Unadjusted claims for the Jan 19 week were 582,909. While that number was down 208,683 from the previous week, when unadjusted claims stood at their highest level since 1991, it was still well above the unadjusted rate of 399,254 seen during the comparable week last year. 

Initial claims often rise in January on an unadjusted basis as companies lay off workers hired for the holiday season and companies attempt to cut costs as the enter a new year. 

A number of states had exceptionally large layoffs during the Jan 12 week, the latest week for which detailed data is available. The largest job losses were endured in North Carolina where 38,951 jobs were lost. The state offered no comment on those losses. 

In California there was an increase in claims of 34,040 in the latest week as layoffs were seen in the electronics, machinery and service industries. South Carolina was also hard hit, with a 33,264 spike in initial claims, mainly due to job cuts in the manufacturing industry. 

The number of workers remaining on state unemployment benefits fell to 3.458 million for the week ended Jan 12, down from 3.512 million in the previous week.