The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment rose less than expected last week, a sign that the labor market continues to strengthen.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 11,000 to a seasonally adjusted 278,000 for the week ended Jan. 31, the Labor Department said on Thursday.
The increase left intact the bulk of the prior week's huge decline, which had taken claims to their lowest level since April 2000. Claims for the week ended Jan. 24 were revised to show 2,000 more applications received than previously reported.
Economists had forecast claims rising to 290,000 last week.
Claims have been volatile in recent months because of difficulties adjusting the data for seasonal variations. Still, they have continued to point to a firming labor market.
The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 6,500 to 292,750 last week.
Last week's data has no bearing on Friday's employment report for January as it falls outside the survey period.
Nonfarm payrolls likely increased 234,000 after rising 252,000 in December, according to a Reuters survey of economists, which would be the longest stretch of job gains above 200,000 since 1994.
The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid edged up 6,000 to 2.40 million in the week ended Jan. 24.