New U.S. claims for unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week, a government report showed on Thursday, but a drop in the four-week moving average to a fresh two-year low suggested the labor market was on the cusp of solid job gains.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 26,000 to a seasonally adjusted 436,000, the Labor Department said.
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Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 425,000 from the previously reported 407,000. The government revised the prior week's figure up to 410,000.
The data has little bearing on Friday's employment report for November as it falls outside the survey period. Anecdotal evidence points to a strengthening in the labor market and the government is expected to report that nonfarm payrolls rose 140,000 last month after increasing 151,000 in October.
Last week's claims covered the Thanksgiving holiday and filings tend to fall during that period. However, the decline in actual claims was not as large as the Labor Department's model had anticipated, leading to a rise in the adjusted claims figure, a department official said.
The four-week average of new jobless claims, considered a better measure of underlying labor market trends, fell 5,750 to 431,000, the lowest since early August 2008.
Despite the spike in initial claims last week, they remained firmly within ranges economists regard as signaling solid jobs growth.
The number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid rose 53,000 to 4.27 million in the week ended Nov. 20, above expectations for 4.21 million. The prior week's figure was revised up to 4.22 million.
The number of people on emergency unemployment benefits increased 142,874 to 3.94 million in the week ended Nov. 13, the latest week for which data is available. A total of 8.91 million people were claiming unemployment benefits during that period under all programs.
About 2 million unemployed people will lose their benefits by the end of this month after Congress failed on Tuesday to renew them.