New claims for US unemployment insurance benefits, a sign of the pace of layoffs, rose to a four-month high last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday.
Initial jobless claims totaled 316,000 in the week ending January 10, with an increase of 19,000 from the prior week bringing them to the highest level since early September, according to the department's data.
The prior week's claims were revised up by 3,000 to 297,000.
The rise in claims numbers came after the holiday shopping season, when many companies hire temporary workers. The Labor Department said there were no special factors affecting the seasonally adjusted data.
The four-week moving average, which helps to smooth week-over-week volatility, was 298,000, an increase of 6,750 from the previous week's slightly upwardly revised number. A year ago, the average stood at 336,250.
The data marked the first time in seven weeks that claims have been above 300,000.
The US unemployment rate fell to 5.6 percent in December from 5.8 percent in November, the lowest level since June 2008, capping a solid year of job growth that added nearly three million payrolls to the economy.