New jobless claims jumped last week by the most since February, reversing the previous week's sharp decline. The rise is partly a result of seasonal factors but also reflects the job market's weakness.
New claims for unemployment insurance jumped by 37,000 to a seasonally adjusted 464,000, the Labor Department said Thursday.
The sharp increase comes after claims fell steeply two weeks ago to their lowest level since August 2008. But much of that drop was driven by temporary seasonal factors and not an improving job market.
Two weeks ago, General Motors and other manufacturers reported fewer temporary layoffs than usual this time of year, a Labor Department analyst said. Last week's rise partly reflects the fading of that trend.
Still, the rise is the latest evidence that jobs remain scarce even as the economy slowly recovers from the worst recession since the 1930s.
Requests for unemployment insurance have been stuck near 450,000 since the beginning of the year, after falling steadily from a peak of 651,000 in March 2009.
The weekly claims are considered a gauge of layoffs and an indication of employers' willingness to hire.
In a healthy economy with rapid hiring, claims usually fall below 400,000.
The four-week average of claims, which smooths fluctuations, rose by 1,250 to 456,000, the department said.
A total of nearly 4.5 million people continued claiming unemployment aid, the department said. That was a drop of 223,000 from the previous week.
The economy began recovering last summer, but recently the rebound has shown signs of faltering.
The housing market is slumping, consumers are cautious with spending and the impact of last year's $787 billion stimulus package is fading.
Private employers are uncertain about the economy's health and hesitant to add jobs.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Wednesday the unemployment rate would gradually decline this year but at a "somewhat slower" pace than the Fed projected in the spring.
The central bank forecasts the jobless rate will be between 9.2 percent and 9.5 percent in the final quarter of 2010.
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