The Labor Department said Thursday that 291,000 Americans filed new claims for jobless benefits for the week ending Nov. 27, up by 15,000 from the previous week. That was the highest level since Nov. 6, when claims were at 292,000.
Last week's increase was higher than many analysts' expectations. They were forecasting claims would rise to 285,000.
The four-week moving average for claims, which smoothes out week-to-week volatility, however, was down slightly last week to 286,500. That was the lowest level since Sept. 18, when claims were at 286,000.
Jobless claims for the week ending Nov. 20 fell by a sharp 11,000, slightly less than the 13,000 decline the government previously reported. That marked the second straight weekly decline, jangling nerves on Wall Street when the report was released last week.
Meanwhile, U.S. home sales soared to record levels in October even as mortgage rates continued to climb. The sales increase was the biggest in more than six years.
Economists consider jobless claims levels below 300,000 an indication of an extremely tight labor market, meaning it's difficult for some employers to find workers.
That's good news for workers but it is potentially troublesome to economists. They fear that employers scrambling to find scarce workers for job openings will lure them with higher wages and benefits - increased costs that could drive up prices.
The government will release November's employment report on Friday. The nation's unemployment rate is now at 4.1 percent, a 30-year low. Many economists believe it will stay at that rate but some think it will tick down a notch to four percent.