Initial claims for U.S. jobless aid climbed more than expected last week but a rolling average hit a 3½-year low, reflecting a rosier job market, a government report showed on Thursday.

First-time filings for state unemployment benefits rose 13,000 to 331,000 in the week ended May 8, coming off a November 2000 low, the Labor Department (search) said.

Economists polled ahead of the report expected claims to rise to 321,000 from the 315,000 initially reported for the May 1 week.

While initial filings increased, a four-week moving average (search) of claims, which smoothes weekly volatility to provide a better view of layoff trends, fell 7,750 to 335,750. That marked its lowest level since November 2000, before the economy tipped into recession.

The decline in the four-week average suggested layoffs have slowed further in recent weeks. Slowing layoffs and a pickup in hiring has led to a surge in employment in recent months.

U.S. employers added 288,000 workers to their payrolls last month on the back of a robust 337,000-job increase in March.

The April payroll gain finally put the number of employed Americans above where it stood at the end of recession in November 2001, bringing the so-called jobless recovery to an end at an unusually long 29 months.

The number of Americans still on the benefit rolls after claiming a first week of aid rose 53,000 to 2.97 million in the week ended May 1, the latest for which figures are available. The increase came after a week in which the so-called continued claims figure hit its lowest point since June 2001.