The number of U.S. workers filing new claims for jobless benefits rose by a less-than-expected 18,000 last week to 366,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis, a Labor Department report showed on Thursday.
Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast initial claims for state unemployment insurance benefits to rebound to 380,000 after a sharp drop the prior week to 348,000 that was initially reported as 346,000.
Claims data is volatile because of annual auto plant shutdowns. The latest week's increase partly reflects the larger-than-expected decline the week before, a Labor Department official said.
On a non-adjusted basis, claims had been expected to rise 12.9 percent last week, but actually rose 18.5 percent, the official said.
The four-week average of new jobless claims, a better gauge of underlying labor trends because it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell to 376,500 from 381,000 the week before. It was the second consecutive weekly drop in that measure.
The number of people remaining on benefit rolls after drawing an initial week of aid fell to 3.12 million in the week ended July 5 - the most recent data available - which was less than the 3.20 million that analysts expected.
Still, it was the 12th straight week that these continued claims were above 3 million, a sign the slow U.S. economy has made it harder for workers to find jobs.