The department also said Tuesday that employers posted the most open jobs in four months in October. That suggests that hiring could pick up a bit in the coming months.
But some companies may postpone hiring this month because of concerns over the fiscal cliff. If all the changes in the cliff take effect for a full year, economists forecast it would push the economy into recession.
President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner are negotiating a potential deficit-reduction deal that would avert the cliff. The goal is to complete an agreement by the end of the year, though talks could continue into January.
Most economists say that if the tax increases and spending cuts are in effect only temporarily while a budget agreement is in sight, the damage to the economy would be minor.
The total number of people receiving benefits rose to 5.6 million in the week that ended Nov. 24, the latest period for which data are available. That's nearly 700,000 more than in the previous week. The figure isn't seasonally adjusted, so it can be volatile from week to week.