(In March 23 story, Labor Department corrects data to show claims at 261,000 instead of 258,000. Also corrects other figures from report)
WASHINGTON, March 23 (Reuters) - The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week, but remained below a level associated with a strengthening labor market.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 261,000 for the week ended March 18, the Labor Department said on Thursday.
Claims for the prior week were revised to show 5,000 more applications received than previously reported. The government revised the claims data going back to 2012 and published new seasonal factors for 2017. The revisions showed no significant change in the state of labor market.
Claims have now been below 300,000, a threshold associated with a healthy labor market for 80 straight weeks. That is the longest stretch since 1970 when the labor market was smaller. The labor market is currently near full employment.
A Labor Department analyst said there were no special factors influencing last week's claims data and no states had been estimated.
The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 3,500 to 246,500 last week.
The claims data covered the period during which the government surveyed employers for March's nonfarm payrolls report.
The four-week average of claims fell 1,000 between the February and March survey weeks, suggesting another month of strong job gains.
Job growth has averaged 209,000 per month over the past three months and the unemployment rate is at 4.7 percent, close to the nine-year low of 4.6 percent hit last November. Tightening labor market conditions and rising inflation enabled the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates last week.
Thursday's claims report also showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell 35,000 to 2.0 million in the week ended March 11.
The four-week average of the so-called continuing claims declined 15,500 to 2.0 million. (Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)