Weekly jobless claims rise after big fall

WASHINGTON - The number of newly laid off workers filing claims for unemployment benefits increased last week after a big decline in the previous week.

The Labor Department said Thursday that applications for unemployment benefits rose to 372,000, an increase of 17,000 from the previous week.

The four-week average for claims was 376,000, down only slightly from 376,750, the previous week. Aside from the period in the fall of 2005 after Hurricane Katrina hit, the four-week average for claims has risen to levels last seen in 2003 when the country was mired in a long jobless recovery after the 2001 recession.

Claims have been unusually volatile in recent weeks, falling by 51,000 two weeks ago after having risen by 35,000 the week before that. Analysts said that claims have been difficult to read because of trouble the government is having adjusting the figures for seasonal changes to reflect this year's unusually early Easter and also because of the impact of a strike at a key parts supplier for General Motors.