The number of Americans filing for initial jobless benefits rose modestly last week, in line with market expectations, a government report showed on Thursday.

First-time claims for state unemployment insurance benefits rose to 350,000 in the week ended Feb. 21, up 6,000 from an unrevised 344,000 the prior week, the Labor Department (search) said.

Wall Street economists had expected claims to tick higher to 348,000.

A Labor Department official said seasonal adjustment factors anticipated a larger decline in the raw data during the holiday-shortened week.

The closely watched four-week moving average of initial jobless claims (search), which irons out weekly fluctuations, rose to 354,750 from 352,000 the prior week. The rise was the fourth consecutive weekly gain in that measure and brought it to its highest level since 355,750 registered in the week ended Dec. 27, 2003.

The number of people continuing to draw a week of benefits dropped 62,000 to 3.10 million in the week ended Feb. 14, the latest week for which the continued claims data are available, after rising 83,000 the week before.

A more comprehensive picture of the job market is likely to emerge with Labor's February employment situation report, scheduled for release on March 5.

A preliminary Reuters survey found economists are expecting the report to show a 125,000 rise in non-farm payrolls (search) after the 112,000 gain in January. The unemployment rate is expected to remain unchanged at 5.6 percent.