The number of Americans who applied last week for new unemployment benefits rose sharply, though it remained at a level that suggests slow but steady improvement in the labor market.
Initial jobless claims rose 20,000 to a seasonally adjusted 362,000 in the week ended Feb.16, the Labor Department said Thursday. The increase may have been partly influenced by the federal holiday on Monday — full claims data for four states, including California and Virginia, were not completed on time and had to be estimated.
Initial claims, a rough gauge of layoffs, have mostly stayed north of 360,000 over the past year. Although they’ve occasionally fallen below that level, claims have always bounced back up. If claims can break below that threshold and stay there, it would suggest companies have accelerated hiring or are cutting even fewer workers.