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Applications for US unemployment benefits rise to 317k last week; still at pre-recession level

FILE - In this May 16, 2014 file photo, shoppers walk past a now hiring sign at a Ross store in North Miami Beach, Fla. The Labor Department releases weekly jobless claims on Thursday, June 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

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FILE - In this May 16, 2014 file photo, shoppers walk past a now hiring sign at a Ross store in North Miami Beach, Fla. The Labor Department releases weekly jobless claims on Thursday, June 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

WASHINGTON - More Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, but claims for jobless aid remain near pre-recession levels.

The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications for unemployment benefits rose 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 317,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, increased to 315,250. These figures are near the jobless claims levels before the outbreak of the Great Recession in December 2007.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs, so the claims data show that employers are dismissing fewer workers. When businesses are confident enough to hold onto staff, they may also step up hiring. That is a positive sign for economic growth, as more jobs usually help lift consumer spending.

Last Friday, the Labor Department said employers added 217,000 jobs in May as the unemployment rate held steady at 6.3 per cent.

The steady hiring after the economy shrank during the first three months of the year because of the winter weather point to faster growth ahead.

Monthly job gains have averaged 234,000 for the past three months, up sharply from 150,000 in the previous three. The May unemployment rate, which is derived from a separate survey, was the lowest rate in more than five years.

Gross domestic product fell 1 per cent in the first three months of 2013. Many economists expect that number could be further revised downward, while growth returns as warmer weather has generated more hiring and consumer spending.

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