The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits shot up to 320,000 in the seven days from Feb. 22 to Feb. 28, marking the highest level since last May. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected claims to fall to a seasonally adjusted 301,000. The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, rose by 10,250 to 304,750, the Labor Department said Thursday. That's the highest level since mid-January. The four-week average smooths out sharp fluctuations in the more volatile weekly report that are usually caused by holidays and bad weather, and it's seen as a more accurate predictor of labor-market trends. Also, the government said continuing claims increased by 17,000 to a seasonally adjusted 2.42 million in the week ended Feb. 21. Continuing claims reflect the number of people already receiving benefits. Initial claims from two weeks ago were unrevised at 313,000.
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