The number of U.S. workers making new claims for unemployment benefits rose slightly last week to 283,000, the government said on Thursday, although a more reliable long-term measure of claims fell to its lowest in 5-1/2 years.
The Labor Department said initial claims for state jobless aid rose 11,000 in the week ended Jan. 21 from an upwardly revised 272,000 the prior week.
Wall Street economists had forecast initial claims would rise to 305,000 from the initially reported 271,000 the previous week.
The four-week moving average of initial claims, which smooths weekly volatility for a more reliable indication of underlying employment trends, fell by 10,750 to 288,750, the lowest level since July 2000.
The report also showed that the number of people still on the jobless rolls after drawing an initial week of aid rose by 53,000 to 2.58 million in the week ended Jan. 14, the latest week for which these data are available. Wall Street economists had forecast continuing claims at 2.59 million in the Jan. 14 week.
Federal Reserve officials believe strong U.S. growth has lifted the economy close to full employment -- a theoretical concept indicating the lowest level of unemployment the United States can sustain without triggering wage inflation.
Financial markets have been betting that the Fed is nearing an end to a 1-1/2 year campaign of rate increases. However, some Fed governors have said in recent days that the central bank has at least one more increase left to go and would stay vigilant for signs of inflation, including a tightening labor market.
The Fed's rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee meets on Tuesday with a new chairman, former White House economic adviser Ben Bernanke. Alan Greenspan, who is stepping down from the post after 18-1/2 years, will attend the meeting.