WASHINGTON - The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits rose 16,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 326,000. Despite the increase, the number remains close to pre-recession levels and points to stable hiring.
The Labor Department says the four-week average of applications, a less volatile measure, inched up 250 to 319,500.
Applications are a proxy for layoffs. The current level of applications suggests that employers are confident enough about consumer demand to maintain their current staffs. Growing business confidence can also signal more hiring.
The Labor Department on Friday will release its March employment report. Economists estimate that 191,000 jobs were added last month, according to FactSet.
About 3.2 million people received benefits in the week ending March 15, the latest data available, about 105,367 fewer than in the previous week.