The number of people filing for first-time unemployment benefits was up 23,000 from the previous week's 279,000, the Labor Department said Thursday.
That figure, which was revised down by 5,000, was the best since February 2006.
Weekly jobless claims can be volatile, particularly in the summer as some factories temporarily shut down.
The more reliable four-week average dropped by 3,500 last week to 297,250, the lowest since April 2006, the Labor Department said. That's an upbeat sign ahead of Friday's jobs report.
In another positive signal, a measure of worker pay and benefits posted a major increase in the second quarter, the Labor Department said.
The employment cost index for civilian workers rose 0.7%, the biggest quarterly gain since 2008.
The new data came after the Commerce Department reported Wednesday that the economy rebounded strongly this spring from a winter contraction.
Total economic output, or gross domestic product, increased at a 4% annual rate in the second quarter. The economy shrank at a 2.1% annual rate in the first quarter.
The jobless claims figures point to another solid month of labor market growth.
Economists expect the government to report on Friday that the economy added 233,000 net new jobs in July and the unemployment rate held steady at 6.1%.
The job creation would be down from June's 288,000. But it would be the sixth straight month of labor market gains of more than 200,000, the first time that has happened since 1997.