New claims for US unemployment benefits unexpectedly leaped in late March to their highest level since November, government data released Thursday showed.
Initial jobless claims, an indicator of the pace of layoffs in the US economy, totaled 385,000 in the week ending March 30, up 28,000 from the prior week's unrevised reading of 357,000, the Labor Department reported.
The four-week moving claims average rose by 11,250 to 354,250.
The third straight weekly increase was unexpected and brought claims to their highest level since late November.
Analysts on average had predicted claims would fall to 345,000.
The latest claims data were not part of the Labor Department's survey for its March jobs market report, which is due Friday. But they added to signs of soft job creation last month.
"The weekly data are volatile but this latest jump erased all of the improvement over the past few months," said Jennifer Lee of BMO Economics.
On Wednesday payrolls processing firm ADP reported private-sector employment rose by 158,000 jobs in March, the smallest increase in four months and well below expectations.
On Friday, the Labor Department releases its jobs and unemployment report, a closely watched indicator of the health of the US economy.
Most analysts have penciled in US jobs growth of 192,000 in March, down from a February spike of 236,000.
The unemployment rate was expected to hold unchanged at 7.7 percent for a second straight month.