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Jobless benefits rise, Labor reports

WASHINGTON The number of people seeking unemployment benefits rose last week to a seasonally adjusted 377,000, after a nearly four-year low the previous week.

The Labor Department says weekly applications increased 21,000. Applications had plummeted two weeks ago to their lowest level since April 2008. The four week average, a less volatile measure, is down to 377,500.

Applications have trended downward over the past few months. The average has fallen about 9 percent since Oct. 1.

Unemployment applications have been particularly volatile this month because employers have cut temporary workers hired for the holidays. The department adjusts for seasonal trends. But doing so accurately can be difficult.

Applications generally need to fall consistently below 375,000 to signal that hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.