NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - New jobless claims rose in the United States last week, the government said Thursday, coming in slightly higher than Wall Street forecasts.
The Labor Department said 350,000 people filed new claims for state unemployment benefits in the week ended Feb. 21, compared with 344,000 the prior week.
Economists, on average, expected 345,000 new claims, according to Briefing.com.
The four-week moving average of new claims, which irons out the volatility of the weekly data, rose to 354,750 from 352,000 the prior week.
Continued claims, the number of people out of work for a week or more, slipped to 3.1 million for the week ended Feb. 14, the latest data available, from a revised 3.16 million the prior week.
On Wall Street, stock market futures were little changed after the report, pointing to a positive open. Treasury bond prices were slightly lower.
Though it usually takes a while for unemployment to fall once the economy's started growing again -- since employers are hesitant to start hiring until they believe the recovery is for real -- the United States has enjoyed nine straight quarters of growth, including the strongest performance in 20 years in the third quarter of 2003, without significant job creation.
In fact, since March 2001, when the 2001 recession began, more than 2.3 million payroll jobs have been lost, according to the Labor Department, making this recession/recovery period the most "jobless" since World War II.
Several indicators have been pointing up for the job market, including a steady, if slow, decline in weekly jobless claims, leading many economists to forecast greater job growth this year.
But some economists worry that structural changes in the job market, including technological advances and a growing appetite for cheap offshore labor, will keep hiring muted in 2004.