Early July is a notoriously volatile time for initial claims.
Historically, the Labor Department has adjusted the numbers to account for temporary layoffs that often result from auto factories retooling during the summer. But in the last few years, fewer automakers have been making those layoffs.
Not surprisingly, states with a large auto manufacturing presence, like Michigan, Indiana and Ohio, were among those reporting a big rise in claims a week earlier.
"One must be wary during these months, given the typical annual auto plant shutdowns," said Jennifer Lee, senior economist with BMO Capital Markets. "Especially this year as many automakers have cut back or eliminated the closures completely."
Lew on U.S. workers competing with China
Economists prefer to look at a four-week moving average to smooth out some of the volatility. That measure declined slightly last week, and over the last few months, has been hovering near levels not seen since 2008.
Meanwhile, about 3.1 million people filed for their second week or more of unemployment benefits in the week ending July 6 -- the most recent data available. That number was up 91,000 form the prior week, but is also prone to volatility in early July.