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Jobless claims rise slightly in latest week

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose last week, but seasonal volatility makes it difficult to get a clear picture of the labor market's health.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 371,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The prior week's figure was revised to show 5,000 fewer applications than previously reported.

"It's basically a number that is not going to derail the prospects of improvements in the jobs market going forward. As far as today is concerned, it won't have much impact on the market," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital. 

The latest data on jobs has shown a labor market that is plodding along. The number of job openings in the U.S. was unchanged essentially in November, The Labor Department said in a separate report Thursday. 

Claims tend to be very volatile around this time of the year because of the holidays and seasonal layoffs. While they increased last week, there was nothing in the data to suggest a deterioration in labor market conditions.

The four-week moving average for new claims, a better measure of labor market trends, increased 6,750 to 365,750, still at a level consistent with steady job gains.

A Labor Department official said there was nothing unusual in state level data and that no states had been estimated. He noted, however, that jobless claims on an unadjusted basis tend to peak in the second week of January and the rise in the week ended January 5 was a build-up to that.

The labor market has been gradually improving, with job gains last year averaging 153,000 per month, little changed from 2011. That has not been enough to significantly cut the unemployment rate which ended the year at 7.8 percent.

The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid tumbled 127,000 to 3.11 million in the week ended December 29, the lowest level since July 2008.

The weekly decline was the largest since January 2011.

The insured unemployment rate fell to 2.4 percent, its lowest since July 2008.