More Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, but the broader trend in layoffs points to a slowly healing job market.
The Labor Department said new claims for unemployment aid rose last week by a seasonally adjusted 26,000 claims, to 436,000. The previous week's claims were revised up slightly to show applications had tumbled by 31,000, to 410,000. The figures are often volatile during the weeks around the Veteran's Day and Thanksgiving holidays.
Even so, the longer-term trend has shown a downward drift.
The four-week moving average of claims, which smooths volatility, fell to 431,000 last week, a two-year low.
Applications for jobless benefits need to stay below 425,000 for several weeks to signal robust hiring, economists say.
Difficulties adjusting for the Thanksgiving holiday contributed to last week's spike in new applications, a government analyst said. The unadjusted figures show new claims fell by 54,196 last week.
The claims figures provide economists with important signals about the health of the job market. They are a measure of the level of layoffs and indicate whether companies are hiring.
Employers have been reluctant to ramp up hiring this year, even as the economy grows modestly.
The economy added 151,000 jobs in October, the first increase in total payrolls in five months. Private companies were responsible for all of the new jobs. But the increase in hiring still wasn't strong enough to lower the unemployment rate, which has been stuck at 9.6 percent.
The government releases a new employment snapshot on Friday. Some economists are starting to raise their forecasts for job creation given recent signs of improvements in the broader economy.
Some think employers will add around 180,000 jobs in November. Others, however, are still forecasting a gain of 145,000 jobs. Most think that the jobless rate won't budge.
Thursday's report also showed that the number of people continuing to collect unemployment aid rose to 4.3 million for the week ending Nov. 20. That doesn't include millions of additional people on extended unemployment programs that were set up during the recession.
Overall, 8.9 million people are receiving jobless aid, including 4.9 million that are doing so through the federally funded extended benefit programs. Those provide up to 99 weeks of benefits.
However, the extended programs expired at the end of November. Nearly 2 million will lose unemployment benefits as the holiday arrives if Congress doesn't change its mind and renew the aid.