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Jobless claims up, but job market still on the mend

New claims for unemployment benefits rose in the latest week, but not by enough to shake the conviction that the job market is healing.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that jobless claims rose by 8,000 to a seasonally-adjusted 362,000 in the week ended March 3. Although the number was slightly above what economists had expected, it was still below the 400,000 mark that signals a slow, but steady improvement in the labor market.

The four-week moving average, considered a more accurate gauge of job market conditions, edged up by only 250 to 355,000, which is still near a four-year low.

Despite the rise in claims last week, labor market conditions are improving and the government is expected to report on Friday that the economy had a third straight month of solid job gains in February.

The number of planned layoffs at companies dipped last month, according to a report from consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. Employers announced 51,728 job cuts last month, down 3.3 percent from 53,486 in January.

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Nonfarm employment likely increased 210,000 last month, according to a Reuters survey, after rising 243,000 in January. The unemployment rate is seen holding at a three-year low of 8.3 percent in February.

A Labor Department official said there was nothing unusual in the state-level data and that only claims for Alaska had been estimated.

The number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid rose 10,000 to 3.42 million in the week ended Feb. 25.

The number of Americans on emergency unemployment benefits increased 24,377 to 2.93 million in the week ended Feb. 18, the latest week for which data is available.

A total of 7.39 million people were claiming unemployment benefits during that period under all programs, down 111,222 from the prior week.

Reuters contributed to this report.