NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment insurance climbed unexpectedly last week.
There were 473,000 initial jobless claims filed in the week ended Feb. 13, up 31,000 from the previous week's upwardly revised 442,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday.
A consensus estimate of economists surveyed by Briefing.com expected claims to slide to 438,000.
The 4-week moving average of initial claims, which levels out volatility, was 467,000, down 1,500 from the previous week's revised average of 469,000.
"We may have had some weather effects," said Wells Fargo senior economist Mark Vitner, adding that the blizzards that battered the East Coast at the end of the previous week may have led people to delay filing unemployment claims to last week.
The 4-week moving average, he said, is a more accurate measure of where jobless claims currently stand.
"We're better than we were a few months ago, but I think the labor market is not improving as rapidly as we had hoped," Vitner said.
The Labor Department said employers shed a modest 20,000 jobs in January -- an improvement from the 150,000 that were lost in December -- and that the unemployment rate fell to 9.7%.
Economists expect businesses to add 10,000 jobs in February, but project the unemployment rate will rise to 9.8%. Vitner, on the other hand, doesn't expect nonfarm payrolls to move into positive territory until late spring.
Continuing claims: The number of people filing continuing claims in the week ended Feb. 6 was unchanged from the previous week's revised 4,563,000 claims.
Economists were expecting continuing claims to fall to 4,500,000.
Continuing claims reflect people filing each week after their initial benefit week until the end of their standard benefits, which usually last 26 weeks. The figures do not include those who have moved into state or federal extensions, or people whose benefits have expired.
The 4-week moving average for ongoing claims fell by 24,000 to 4,585,750 from the previous week's revised 4,609,750.
The slide may be signaling that more filers are dropping off those rolls into extended benefits.
State-by-state: Jobless claims in seven states declined by more than 1,000 in the week ended Feb. 6, the most recent state data available. Claims in California dropped the most, by 13,535, which the state attributed to fewer layoffs in the construction industry.
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