WASHINGTON, (Reuters) - The number of Americans filing new applications for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week, but the trend continued to point to a strengthening labor market.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 274,000 for the week ended Aug. 8, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims for the prior week were revised to show 1,000 fewer applications received than previously reported.
Though claims have risen for three straight weeks, they have remained below the 300,000 threshold, which is associated with a firming jobs markets, for 23 consecutive weeks.
Economists had forecast claims to be unchanged at 270,000 last week. A Labor Department analyst said there were no special factors influencing the data and no states had been estimated.
The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 1,750 to 266,250 last week, the lowest since April 2000.
Non farm payrolls increased by a solid 215,000 jobs in July and the unemployment rate held at a seven-year low of 5.3 percent - near the 5.0 percent to 5.2 percent range that most Federal Reserve officials think is consistent with a steady but
low level of inflation.
Thursday's claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid rose 15,000 to 2.27 million in the week ended August 1.
((Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao))