WASHINGTON — The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits rose 5,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 320,000, which is close to prerecession levels and suggests a stable job market.
The four-week average of applications, a less volatile figure, fell 3,500 to 327,000, the lowest since late November, the Labor Department said today.
Applications are a rough proxy for layoffs. Their current pace suggests that companies are confident enough about economic growth to keep their staff levels.
About 3.35 million people received unemployment benefits as of March 1, the latest figures available. That’s about 101,000 fewer than the previous week.
Hiring accelerated in February after two months of meager jobs gains. Cold winter weather in January and December limited consumer spending, home buying, and, consequently, economic growth. Employers added 175,000 jobs last month, up from 129,000 in January and close to the monthly average of the past two years, the Labor Department reported recently.