The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits leapt to the highest level in four months in the latest week, erasing the large drop reported last week and then some.
The Labor Department reported Thursday that initial claims, a notoriously volatile point that is subject to large swings due to technical factors, rose a seasonally-adjusted 46,000 to 388,000. The four-week moving average, which smooths out wrinkles in the data, rose 750 to 365,500. Both data points remain below 400,000, suggesting that the labor market is healing, although at a snail's pace.
"Improvement in the labor market will continue to be fitful and slow," said Joseph Trevisani, a market strategist at Worldwide Markets in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey.
Last week, California reported a large drop in applications, pushing down the overall figure to the lowest since February 2008. This week, it reported a significant increase as it processed applications delayed from the previous week.
A department spokesman says the seasonally adjusted numbers "are being distorted ... by an issue of timing."
The government adjusts its readings for claims to take into account regular seasonal swings. Claims usually increase at the beginning of a quarter, but one state appears to be following a different pattern than normal in reporting its claims, which led to the wild fluctuations over the last couple of weeks, a department official said.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.