The number of Americans seeking initial jobless aid grew last week, the government said on Thursday, but the figure still suggested some labor market (search) improvement.

First-time claims for unemployment benefits (search) rose 13,000 to 366,000 in the week ended Nov. 8 from a revised 353,000 the prior week, the Labor Department (search) said.

The figure was close to expectations on Wall Street, where economists had looked for claims to rise to 360,000 from the 348,000 previously reported for the Nov. 1 week.

While first-time filings climbed, a four-week moving average of initial claims - which smooths weekly volatility to provide a better view of labor-market trends - dropped by 6,000 to 375,250. That marked its lowest level since early March 2001, the month the economy tumbled into recession.

Initial claims have now held below the 400,000 level that economists view as a divide between a deteriorating and improving jobs market for six straight weeks.

In addition, the four-week moving average has moved lower for three weeks, suggesting a surprise plunge in claims in the Nov. 1 week was not simply an aberration.

The report lent further to evidence suggesting a long slump in the job market may have finally ended.

Last week, the department said U.S. employers added 286,000 workers to their payrolls over the last three months, the best three-month performance since before the economy entered recession.

The latest report, however, showed a rise in the total number of unemployed workers who continued to draw benefits after filing an initial claim. That figure rose by 49,000 to 3.53 million in the week ended Nov. 1, the latest week for which figures are available.

However, a four-week average of that jobs-market barometer fell to its lowest level since late March.