WASHINGTON (AP) -- More Americans sought unemployment benefits last week, but the number of applications continues to be at historically low levels.<br />
The Labor Department said Wednesday that applications for unemployment benefits climbed 17,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 298,000.<br />
The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose 250 to 290,750. That average has plummeted 17.5 percent in the past 12 months.<br />
Applications are a proxy for layoffs. For almost four months, applications for jobless aid have hovered at relatively low sub-300,000 levels. That suggests that employers expect strong economic growth to continue, causing them to hold onto their staff and potentially hire additional workers.<br />
As fewer people have sought unemployment benefits, job growth has steadily accelerated and helped fuel the economy.
A blustery winter storm dumped snow and ice across the West on Wednesday, making driving treacherous in the mountains from California to the Rockies and forcing residents and party-goers in some usually sun-soaked cities to bundle up for a frosty New Year's.