By Lucia Mutikani
WASHINGTON -- The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week, but the underlying trend continued to point to some strength in the labor market.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 16,000 to a seasonally adjusted 326,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. Claims for the week ended March 22 were revised to show 1,000 fewer applications received than previously reported.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast first-time applications for jobless benefits rising to 317,000 in the week ended March 29.
The four-week moving average for new claims, considered a better measure of underlying labor market conditions as it irons out week-to-week volatility, nudged up 250 to 319,500. This indicates a firmer bias in the labor market.
A Labor Department analyst said no states were estimated and there were no special factors influencing the state level data.
The government made revisions to the model it uses to smooth the claims data for seasonal fluctuations. It also revised claims data going back to 2009.
Despite last week's increase, claims have been generally stable in March, which should support expectations of an acceleration in job growth during the month.
The government's closely watched employment report Friday is expected to show nonfarm payrolls increased by 200,000 jobs last month after rising 175,000 in February, according to a Reuters survey of economists. The unemployment rate is seen falling one-tenth of a percentage point to 6.6 percent.
A report on Wednesday showed private employers stepped up hiring in March for a second straight month.
The labor market suffered a setback in December and January when unseasonably cold weather gripped large parts of the country. With temperatures rising, a pick-up is in the cards, which should help to unleash pent-up demand and put the economy on a stronger growth trajectory.
The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid rose 22,000 to 2.84 million in the week ended March 22.