WASHINGTON - The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid rose sharply last week but remained at a level consistent with moderate hiring.
The Labor Department says weekly applications for unemployment benefits leapt 38,000 to a seasonally adjusted 368,000. The increase comes after applications plummeted in the previous two weeks to five-year lows.
The volatility reflects the government's difficulty adjusting the data to account for layoffs after the holiday shopping season. Job cuts typically spike in the second week in January as retailers dismiss temporary employees hired for the winter holidays. Layoffs then fall in the second half of the month.
The department attempts to adjust for such fluctuations, but the January figures can still be volatile. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, ticked up to 352,000, just above a four-year low.