New claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week, a government report showed on Thursday, but not enough to change perceptions that the labor market was strengthening.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 8,000 to a seasonally adjusted 362,000, the Labor Department said. The prior week's figure was revised up to 354,000 from the previously reported 351,000. Even with the increases, claims are still near their lowest in four years.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims unchanged at 351,000 last week. The four-week moving average for new claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends, edged up 250 to 355,000 - still near a four-year low.
Despite the rise in claims last week, labor market conditions are improving and the government is expected to report on Friday that the economy had a third straight month of solid job gains in February.
Nonfarm employment likely increased 210,000 last month, according to a Reuters survey, after rising 243,000 in January. The unemployment rate is seen holding at a three-year low of 8.3 percent in February.
A Labor Department official said there was nothing unusual in the state-level data and that only claims for Alaska had been estimated.
The number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid rose 10,000 to 3.42 million in the week ended February 25.
The number of Americans on emergency unemployment benefits increased 24,377 to 2.93 million in the week ended February 18, the latest week for which data is available.
A total of 7.39 million people were claiming unemployment benefits during that period under all programs, down 111,222 from the prior week. (Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)