The number of people filing new claims for unemployment aid rose last week at the fastest pace in six months to a level not seen since March, the government reported Thursday.
The Labor Department said jobless claims jumped last week by 32,000 to 360,000. It was the biggest advance since November and was in contrast to analyst expectations of a more modest increase.
The four-week moving average of jobless claims, considered a better measure of labor-market trends, rose 1,250 to 339.250, a level consistent with modest hiring.
Weekly claims are a gauge of layoffs. The big increase last week could mean companies are cutting more jobs, possibly because of big government spending cuts that began in March.
Recent improvements in the labor market have contrasted sharply with other data, including retail sales and manufacturing, that have suggested that growth slowed late in the first quarter and that government austerity measures began to affect consumers and businesses in April.