The number of U.S. workers applying for jobless benefits rose by an unexpectedly steep 12,000 last week to 321,000, government data showed on Wednesday, but remained at levels still pointing to a healthy labor market.

The latest figures from the Labor Department cover the week ending Nov. 18 and compare with Wall Street forecasts for claims of 310,000. This compares with a revised 309,000 the week before, which was initially reported as 308,000 applications for aid.

A Labor Department official said there were no special factors accounting for the increase in claims last week.

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The four-week moving average — seen as a more reliable gauge of underlying employment trends — rose to 317,000 compared with 314,000 the week before.

The number of people who remained on the benefits rolls after drawing an initial week of aid increased by 14,000 to 2.454 million in the week ended Nov. 11, the latest week for which data are available. Analysts had forecast 2.43 million claims.

Weekly jobless data provide clues to the overall labor market climate, which is under particularly close scrutiny after an unexpectedly steep drop in the unemployment rate to 4.4 percent in October, from 4.6 percent, after 92,000 fresh jobs were created that month.

November's employment situation will be reported on Dec. 8, a week later than the customary first Friday of the month, because of the Thanksgiving holiday.

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