The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week, but will probably do little to change views that the labor market was strengthening. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 21,000 to a seasonally adjusted 311,000 for the week ended Aug. 9, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to only 295,000 last week. Claims are settling down after some volatility in July related to the annual automobile plant shutdowns for retooling. The four-week average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 2,000 to 295,750, still pointing to firming job market conditions. A significant decline in layoffs, which has pushed claims down to their pre-recession levels, has been the major driver of an improving job market. But hiring is also gaining traction. A report on Tuesday showed hiring rose in June to its highest level since February 2008. The number of job openings that month was the highest since February 2001.