US weekly jobless claims unexpectedly rise

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) - The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week, but the trend in jobless claims continued to point to tightening labor market conditions.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 231,000 for the week ended June 30, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims data for the prior week was revised to show 1,000 more applications received than previously reported.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims falling to 225,000 in the latest week. Claims could become volatile in the coming weeks as automobile manufacturers close assembly lines for annual retooling.

More auto workers are likely to be affected by the temporary plant closures than in the past, which could throw off the model that the government uses to smooth the data for seasonal fluctuations. General Motors has announced it will close its Flint assembly plant for the whole of July.

The Labor Department said only claims for Maine were estimated last week.

The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 2,250 to 224,500 last week.

The labor market is viewed as being near or at full employment, with the jobless rate at an 18-year low of 3.8 percent. The unemployment rate has dropped by three-tenths of a percentage point this year and is near the Federal Reserve's forecast of 3.6 percent by the end of this year.

With a record 6.7 million unfilled jobs, layoffs are running very low. The government is likely to report on Friday that employers added 195,000 jobs to their payrolls in June, on top of the 223,000 positions created in May, according to a Reuters survey of economists.

The claims report also showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid increased 32,000 to 1.74 million in the week ended June 23. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims fell 1,750 to 1.72 million, the lowest level since December 1973.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)