WASHINGTON -- Initial jobless claims surprisingly jumped last week to near 350,000 but remained at a level consistent with moderate labor market growth.
The number of people filing for first-time unemployment benefits rose to 348,000, up sharply from the previous week's revised figure of 329,000, the Labor Department said Thursday.
Economists had expected about 327,000 new jobless claims last week. The unusually cold weather in much of the country could have contributed to the increase.
Last week's figure was the highest in six weeks. Claims had settled into the 330,000 range this month after typical volatility during the holiday season.
The four-week average, which smooths out weekly fluctuations, remained in that range. The average rose slightly last week to 333,000.
Weekly claims below 350,000 indicate moderate job growth.
Claims have been running lower this month than in December, when the economy added just 74,000 net new jobs. The government will release January job-creation and unemployment figures on Feb. 7.
On Wednesday, Federal Reserve policymakers signaled the economic recovery and job market was strengthening by voting to continue reducing the central bank's monthly bond-buying program.
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