updated 11/2/2006 9:05:42 AM ET 2006-11-02T14:05:42

The number of U.S. workers applying for jobless benefits rose by an unexpectedly large 18,000 last week to 327,000, but remains at levels that still point to a relatively healthy jobs market, government data showed on Thursday.

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The latest figures from the Labor Department cover the week ending October 28 and mark the highest claims since the July 8 week, when they were 334,000.

The numbers compare with Wall Street forecasts for claims of 310,000. Claims for the prior week were revised to 309,000 from an initially reported 308,000 applications for aid. A Labor Department official said there were no special factors explaining last week’s gain in the seasonally adjusted numbers.

The four-week moving average — regarded as a more representative gauge of underlying employment trends — rose to 311,250 from 305,500 the week before.

The number of people who remained on the benefits rolls after drawing an initial week of aid declined by 27,000 to 2.415 million in the week ended October 21, the latest week for which data are available. This was the lowest level of continued claims since the week of June 17 and compared with a consensus forecast for 2.44 million claims.

The weekly jobless data were gathered too late in the month to have any bearing on October’s employment report, due out on Friday. Analysts polled by Reuters expect 125,000 new non-farm jobs were created in October, up from just 51,000 the previous month, and forecast that the unemployment rate would stay put at 4.6 percent.

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