WASHINGTON - Weekly applications for U.S. unemployment benefits rose 19,000 last week to 348,000, the highest in about a month. But the broader trend in applications remains low.
The Labor Department says that the four-week average, a less volatile measure, increased just 750 to 333,000. The increase follows three weeks of declines.
The average is close to pre-recession levels and suggests that, despite last week's rise, layoffs remain low. But hiring will need to pick up to cut the still-high 6.7 percent unemployment rate.
Employers added just 74,000 jobs in December, the fewest in three years and far below the average of 214,000 added in the previous four months. Most economists forecast that hiring will rebound in January to roughly the 185,000 average monthly job gains of the past two years.