New claims for U.S. jobless pay rose by 3,000 last week while a separate gauge of longer-term unemployment posted a third successive weekly increase, the Labor Department reported on Thursday.

Initial claims for state unemployment insurance benefits rose to 322,000 in the week ended December 24 from an upwardly revised 319,000 in the prior week. That was modestly higher than Wall Street economists' forecasts for 320,000 claims but the prior week's claims figure was revised up from an originally reported 318,000 so the rise in claims was not far from expectations.

The closely watched four-week moving average of new claims, designed to flatten the volatility in the weekly numbers to provide a clearer picture of the job market, edged up to 325,000 in the week ended December 24 from 324,750.

The number of continued claims - a measure of how many people remained on benefit rolls after drawing an initial week of aid — rose for a third straight week. These claims were up 85,000 to 2.72 million in the week ended December 17, the latest week for which these figures are available.