The number of first-time claims for jobless benefits rose by 46,000 last week, to 388,000, the Employment and Training Administration says.
The previous week's total — 342,000 — was the fewest since early 2008. The increase last week put claims back into the range where they've been stuck for a year, between 350,000 and 400,000.
"At least a major part of the jump would be a correction from the prior week," Tom Simons, an economist at Jefferies Group Inc. in New York, tells Bloomberg News. "We're seeing very gradual improvement in the labor market. The economy is just plodding along at the moment."
"A Labor Department official said it appeared that state-level administrative issues were distorting the data. 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, the official said."
Watch for the news of the increase to be a campaign trail topic later today. After previous reports signalling strengthening in the labor market, some conservatives questioned whether the statistics were being skewed.