U.S. jobless claims rise, but labor market still healthy

WASHINGTON -- More Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, but their numbers remained low enough to suggest that layoffs are rare and the job market is healthy.

The Labor Department says the number of people seeking jobless aid rose by 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 278,000, highest since the end of January. The less-volatile four-week moving average slipped by 1,750 to 270,250, lowest since late November.

The figures, released a day before the government's February report on job creation and unemployment, show the U.S. job market remains resilient in the face of economic weakness overseas and turmoil in financial markets.

Friday's monthly report will be in play when the Federal Reserve starts a two-day monetary policy session March 15. While the Fed is not expected to hike interest rates at this month's meeting, after an initial increase from near zero in December, expectations have recently been revived for one to two additional moves this year.

The U.S. economy is resilient amid slowing global growth, but parts of the country are seeing a weaker expansion, the Fed's Beige Book, released Wednesday concluded.

Unemployment is at an eight-year low of 4.9 percent. On Wednesday, the payroll processor ADP reported that U.S. businesses added a healthy 214,000 jobs in February, up from 193,000 in January.