Job Fair New York Military 2013
A job fair in New York state. Reuters

The number of Americans applying for first-time unemployment benefits rose sharply last week to 360,000, an increase of 16,000 and much higher than the number analysts were expecting, the U.S. Labor Department said Thursday.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S expected, on average, claims for the seven days between June 30 and July 6 to fall to 340,000 below the previous week's revised figure of 344,000. By comparison, there were 363,000 first-time claims filed during the comparable week last year (seasonally adjusted).

Although claims spiked, Labor Department officials and economists caution that one should not read too much into any one week in July - a historically volatile month, due to auto plant retooling shutdowns, and temporary end-of-school-year layoffs.

For the seven days ended July 6 the four-week moving average, considered a more reliable measure of labor market trends, rose to 351,750, an increase of 6,000 from the previous week's revised average of 345,750.

"The total number of people claiming benefits in all programs for the week ending June 22 was 4,505,508, a decrease of 52,257 from the previous week," the Labor Department said in a statement. "There were 5,874,101 persons claiming benefits in all programs in the comparable week in 2012."