New claims for U.S. jobless benefits unexpectedly edged up by 5,000 last week to the highest level of the year, but a measure of longer-term unemployment fell to its lowest level in more than five years, the government said on Thursday.
The number of Americans filing initial claims for state unemployment aid rose to 309,000 in the week ended March 11, the highest since late December, from a revised 304,000 the prior week, the Labor Department said.
Economists had expected jobless claims to dip to 299,000 from the 303,000 originally reported for the week ended March 4.
The increase pushed a four-week moving average of claims, which offers a better view of underlying trends, up by 2,750 to 296,500. While the average is at its highest level since mid-January, it still suggests a robust labor market.
In addition, the number of unemployed workers still on the benefit rolls after receiving an initial week of aid tumbled by 49,000 to 2.45 million in the March 4 week, the latest for which figures are available.
The decrease, which was much sharper than economists had expected, brought these so-called continued claims to their lowest level since February 2001, just before the U.S. economy slipped into recession.