WASHINGTON - More Americans sought unemployment benefits last week, but the number of applications still stayed near historic lows that point to a stable job market.
The Labor Department says the number of people applying for jobless aid rose 11,000 to a seasonally adjusted 276,000. The less-volatile four-week average rose 3,500 to 263,250.
The applications are a proxy for layoffs. The modest number suggests that employers are holding onto workers and possibly looking to hire.
Weekly jobless claims have remained below the crucial threshold of 300,000 for more than a year, a level that usually corresponds with monthly gains in excess of 200,000.
Economists expect that Friday's jobs report will show that employers hired roughly 200,000 workers in February as the unemployment rate held at an eight-year low of 4.9 percent.