WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of people applying for U.S. unemployment benefits rose 14,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 348,000, though the broader trend in applications remained stable.
But the four-week average was unchanged at 338,250, the Labor Department said Thursday. Applications are a rough proxy for layoffs. The average is not far above pre-recession levels, a sign companies are laying off few workers.
Economists said that winter storms two weeks ago may have caused some people to delay submitting their applications until last week, temporarily boosting the figures.
"Other evidence continues to point clearly to reasonably robust labor demand so we very much doubt the underlying trend in claims is picking up," Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said in a note to clients.
Applications have been mostly steady in recent weeks, even though hiring faltered in January and February. That suggests employers may be reluctant to add many jobs, but they aren't worried enough about future growth to step up layoffs.
Nearly 3.5 million people received unemployment aid in the week ending Feb. 8, the latest data available. That's about 25,000 fewer than the previous week.
Harsh winter weather has chilled hiring in recent months. Employers added just 113,000 jobs in January. That followed a gain of only 75,000 in December. Those figures are about half the monthly pace of the past two years.
On the positive side, the unemployment rate fell in January to a five-year low of 6.6 percent from 6.7 percent, as more of those out of work found jobs. And hiring rose in manufacturing and construction, two higher-paying industries that are key drivers of growth.