The number of Americans initially applying for unemployment aid last week increased to the highest level since the week ending Feb. 22. In the week ending April 26, the advance figure of seasonally adjusted initial claims for jobless benefits increased to 344,000, 14,000 more than the revised level of the previous week, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The data also exceeded the average market expectation of around 320,000. Meanwhile, the four-week moving average, which helps smooth out week-to-week volatility, increased by 3,000 to 320,000 last week. The advance figure of seasonally adjusted insured unemployment during the week ending April 19 increased 97,000 from the previous week to 2,771,000. Initial claims for jobless benefits reflect the latest firings in a week. A decrease or persistent low level is a signal the job market is improving. Analysts say the three consecutive rises in weekly jobless claims is mainly due to the Easter holiday and spring recess at schools, which made the statistics more difficult to adjust the data for seasonal variations. According to the National Employment Report, released jointly by Automatic Data Processing (ADP) and Moody's Analytics on Wednesday, U.S. private companies added 220,000 jobs in April, the highest level since November 2013.