The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits jumped by 31,000 to 313,000 in the seven days from Feb. 15 to Feb. 21, continuing a recent pattern of sharp up-and-down movements. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected claims to total a seasonally adjusted 290,000 in the week that included the Presidents' Day holiday. The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, rose by 11,500 to a still-low 294,500, the Labor Department said Thursday. 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. Also, the government said continuing claims decreased by 21,000 to a seasonally adjusted 2.4 million in the week ended Feb. 14. Continuing claims reflect the number of people already receiving benefits. Initial claims from two weeks ago were revised down to 282,000 from 283,000.
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