Initial applications by Americans for unemployment benefits surged last week to their highest level since early January, although economists said the sharp jump wasn't cause for concern.
Signs point to an improving job market and the increase was likely because of severe winter weather and difficulties adjusting data following the holidays, analysts said.
"The job market is doing well and the increase in initial claims doesn't raise a red flag," said Ryan Sweet, senior economist at Moody's Analytics.
Claims for jobless benefits jumped 31,000 from the previous week to 313,000 for the week ended Feb 21, the Labor Department said Thursday. Analysts had expected an increase to 289,000, according to FactSet Research Systems Inc.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell following the report, but rebounded in later trading.
Weekly claim figures tend to fluctuate erratically. The four-week moving average for jobless claims, which smooths some of that volatility, rose 11,500 to 294,500, a level that signals a healthy job market, analysts say.