The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits in mid-August rose for the fourth straight week, but initial claims remain at very low levels that indicate the labor market is still improving. New jobless claims rose by 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 277,000 in the seven days stretching from Aug. 9 to Aug. 15, the government said Thursday. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had expected a reading of 271,000. Still, initial claims have clung below the key 300,000 threshold for 24 weeks, the longest stretch in more than 15 years. The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, climbed by 5,500 to seasonally adjusted 271,500. The four-week average smooths out sharp fluctuations in the more volatile weekly report and is seen as a more accurate predictor of labor-market trends. Some 2.25 million people were already collecting weekly unemployment benefits, known as continuing claims, in the seven days ended Aug. 8. That's down 24,000 from the start of August.
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