May 17, 2013 12:28 AM EDT

U.S. Jobless Claims Rise 32,000 to 360,000: Labor Department

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Initial jobless claims unexpectedly rose to a six-week high of 360,000 last week after declining to a post-recession low this month, according to a Labor Department report released Thursday.

The less volatile four-week average rose just 1,250 to 339,250, the Labor Department said Thursday. That's a level consistent with modest job gains.

Applications tend to fluctuate sharply from week to week, and economists typically focus more on the four-week average. That average remains 9 percent lower than it was six months ago.

The job market has improved over the past six months. The economy has added an average of 208,000 jobs a month since November. That's up from only 138,000 a month in the previous six months.

In addition, Bloomberg reports that the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia's general economic index fell to minus 5.2 from 1.3 in April. New housing starts dropped 16% in April after several months of gains. Multi- family starts dropped nearly 39 percent.

"We are seeing things like the sequester and budget cuts act as a restraining factor," Julia Coronado, chief economist for North America at BNP Paribas in New York told Bloomberg. "Second-quarter growth is going to be slower than the first quarter, and we haven't yet broken out of this pattern of strong quarters followed by weak quarters," she added.

The government said continuing claims decreased by 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 3.0 million in the week ended May 4. Continuing claims reflect the number of people already receiving benefits. Initial claims from two weeks ago, meanwhile, were revised up to 328,000 from an original reading of 323,000, based on more complete data collected at the state level.

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