The number of people applying for new unemployment benefits shot above 300,000 for the first time since early September, perhaps a sign the pace of hiring in the U.S. may have slowed a touch. Initial jobless claims jumped by 21,000 to 313,000 in the week ended Nov. 22, marking the highest level since the first week of September. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected claims to total a seasonally adjusted 288,000. The average of new claims over the past month rose by 6,250 to 294,000, the Labor Department said Wednesday. The four-week average smoothens out seasonal volatility in the weekly report and is seen as a more accurate predictor of labor-market trends. Although Wall Street expects another 200,000 gain in U.S. employment in November, the spike in claims and a consumer confidence survey showing that Americans believe jobs are harder to find suggests that hiring might not be quite as strong as investors expect. Meanwhile, the government said continuing claims decreased by 17,000 to a seasonally adjusted 2.32 million in the week ended Nov. 15. Continuing claims reflect the number of people already receiving benefits. They have been on a steady downward trend that's put them at a 15-year low. Initial claims from two weeks ago were revised up to 292,000 from 291,000.
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