Jobless Rate Inches Up

The number of Americans filing first-time claims for jobless benefits rose unexpectedly last week but remained at a level suggesting layoffs were easing, a government report showed on Thursday.

Initial claims for state unemployment aid, a rough guide to the pace of layoffs, rose 13,000 to 378,000 in the week ended Dec. 6, their highest level in six weeks, the Labor Department (search) said.

Wall Street economists had expected claims to slip slightly to 360,000 from the 365,000 claims filed in the Nov. 29 week.

A closely watched four-week average (search) of claims, which smooths weekly volatility, rose 2,250 to 364,750.

A Labor Department spokesman said while it can be hard to adjust the data to account for seasonal variations around the holidays, there did not appear to be any problem with adjusting last week's data.

While claims have risen for two straight weeks, they have been below the 400,000 level that economists see as the divide between improving and deteriorating labor markets for 10 straight weeks — the longest stretch since a run that ended in April 2001.

The department said the number of unemployed workers who continued to draw benefits after an initial week of aid rose 11,000 to 3.35 million in the week ended Nov. 29, although a four-week measure of that barometer fell to its lowest level since February.