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U.S. jobless claims jump to 357,000

A man fills out an application during the

A man fills out an application during the Hiring Our Heroes New York hiring fair for veterans and military spouses hosted by the New York Army National Guard at the 69th Regiment Armory. Unemployment applications increased to 357,000 for the week ending March 23, the Labor Department said Thursday. (March 27, 2013) Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits jumped by 16,000 last week, the second straight weekly increase. But the longer-term trend in layoffs remained consistent with an improved job market.

Applications increased to a seasonally adjusted 357,000 for the week ended March 23, the Labor Department said Thursday. That's up from 341,000 the previous week, which was revised slightly higher.

The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose 2,250 to 343,000. Even with the gain, the average is only slightly higher than the previous week's five-year low of 340,750.

Economists pay closer attention to the four-week average because it smooths out week-to-week fluctuations.

Applications, which are a proxy for layoffs, have been declining steadily since November. At the same time, hiring has accelerated.

Unemployment benefit applications surged during the recession as companies slashed millions of jobs. But as layoffs and firings eased, applications for unemployment aid slowly but steadily came down.

Hiring is up, too. Employers have added an average of 200,000 jobs per month since November. That's nearly double the average from last spring.

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