WASHINGTON (AP) -- More people applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week, although jobless claims continue to be close to pre-recession levels.<br />
Weekly applications for unemployment aid climbed 21,000 to a seasonally adjusted 311,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The prior week's was revised up slightly to 290,000.<br />
The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose 2,000 to 295,750. That continues to be close to averages that predate the beginning of the Great Recession in late 2007.<br />
"Stepping back from the weekly volatility," said Jennifer Lee, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets, "the trend is still very encouraging and points to continued job growth."