The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment aid increased last week after falling sharply two weeks ago. Despite the rise, the level of applications remains near pre-recession levels, a sign hiring will remain healthy.

The Labor Department says weekly unemployment benefit applications rose 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 293,000. Yet the four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell for the second straight week to 298,500.

Two weeks ago, applications had plummeted to 281,000, near a 14-year low first reached in July.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. Fewer applications indicate that employers are holding onto their workers, likely because they are more confident about the economy. It may also indicate they will boost hiring.

The total number of people receiving benefits ticked up by 7,000 to 2.4 million.