The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week, but the four-week average of claims fell to a two-month low, indicating that labor market conditions continue to tighten.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 14,000 to a seasonally adjusted 257,000 for the week ended April 22, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Data for the prior week was revised to show 1,000 fewer applications received than previously reported.
Claims have now been below 300,000, a threshold associated with a healthy labor market, for 112 straight weeks. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was smaller. The labor market is close to full employment, with the unemployment rate at a near 10-year low of 4.5 percent.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast first-time applications for jobless benefits rising to 245,000 last week.
A Labor Department analyst said there were no special factors influencing last week's data and only claims for Louisiana had been estimated.
Claims, however, tend to be volatile around this time of the year because of the different timings of spring and Easter holidays, which often throws off the model the government uses to smooth the data of seasonal fluctuations.
The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 500 to 242,250 last week, the lowest level since February.
The claims report also showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid rose 10,000 to 1.99 million in the week ended April 15.
It was the second straight week that the so-called continuing claims remained below 2 million. The four-week moving average of continuing claims fell 16,000 to 2.0 million, the lowest level since June 2000.
The continuing claims data covered the survey week for April's unemployment rate. The four-week average of claims fell 23,500 between the March and April survey periods, suggesting a further improvement in the unemployment rate after it dropped two-tenths of a percentage point to 4.5 percent last month.