WASHINGTON, May 1 (UPI) -- The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose for the second straight week by 14,000 new claims to a seasonally adjusted level of 344,000.
This is the highest level seen since February and came as a surprise to economists who had estimated claims would fall to 320,000 for the week ending April 26. Claims had increased 25,000 the prior week, which economists attributed to the Easter holidays and expected it would be reversed this week.
The previous week's estimates were also revised to reflect an additional increase of 1,000, taking that week's claims to 330,000.
While claims have been rising steadily since February, when they were 301,000, they are still nowhere close to the peak of 600,000 reached in 2009.
Continuing claims jumped 97,000 to 2.77 million in the latest week. Continuing claims reflect the number of people already receiving benefits.
Jobless claims are a signal of layoffs, so higher numbers can indicate a weak labor market. But those claims are known to be volatile and could still be feeling the effects of the Easter break. The Labor Department is expected to release non-farm payroll data Friday, with economists polled by MarketWatch estimating 215,000 jobs were added in April, up from 192,000 in March.