People line up at a job fair (file photo)
WASHINGTON (AP) - The number of Americans seeking unemployment
benefits rose sharply last week but remained at a level consistent with
Weekly applications jumped 38,000 to a seasonally
adjusted 368,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The increase
comes after applications plummeted the previous two weeks to five-year
The volatility reflects the government's difficulty
adjusting the data to account for layoffs after the holiday shopping
season. Job cuts typically spike the second week in January as retailers
dismiss temporary employees hired for the winter holidays. Layoffs then
fall in the second half of the month.
The department tries to
adjust for such fluctuations but the January figures can still be
volatile. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, ticked up to
352,000, just above a four-year low.
On Friday, the government is
scheduled to issue its January jobs report. Analysts forecast that it
will show employers added 155,000 jobs, the same as in December. The
unemployment rate is expected to remain at 7.8% for a third straight
That's consistent with the number of people seeking
unemployment aid. Applications fluctuated between 360,000 and 390,000
most of last year and employers added an average of 153,000 jobs a
That's just been enough to slowly push down the unemployment rate, which fell 0.7 percentage points last year to 7.8%.