WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits rose 8,000 last week to 339,000, evidence that layoffs ticked up. Still, the increase wasn't enough to suggest the job market is worsening.
The Labor Department said Thursday that the four week average of applications, a less volatile measure, increased 3,500 to a seasonally adjusted 336,750.
The average is roughly in line with pre-recession levels and suggests that, despite last week's rise, companies are cutting few jobs. Applications are a proxy for layoffs.
Last week's figure may also have been pushed up by cold weather, which can cause construction firms and other companies to stop work.
A total of 3.52 million Americans received benefits as of Jan. 25 — the latest data available — up from 3.47 million the previous week.
The data suggests the job market remains stable, despite weak hiring in the past two months. Tepid job gains in January and December have raised concerns that the economy has lost momentum this year.
Still, economists weren't worried by last week's increase in applications.
Jim O'Sullivan, an economist at High Frequency Economics, noted that the four-week average remains below last year's average of 343,000. Monthly job gains, meanwhile, averaged 194,000 last year, far above December and January's totals. That suggests hiring could rebound soon.
A sharp slowdown in growth and hiring is less likely as long as applications for unemployment benefits remain relatively low. Steady applications suggest businesses are confident enough in the economy to hold onto their workers.