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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose sharply last week, reversing the prior three weeks declines, but a recent strengthening of the labor market likely remains intact.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits surged 68,000 to a seasonally adjusted 368,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. That was the largest weekly increase since November 2012. Claims for the prior week were revised to show 2,000 more applications received than previously reported.
Economists polled by Reuters had expected first-time applications to rise to 320,000 last week.
The four-week moving average for new claims, which irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 6,000 to 328,750.
A Labor Department analyst said no states had been estimated and there were no special factors influencing the report. He noted, however, that seasonal volatility, including a late Thanksgiving, made it difficult adjusting the data for seasonal variations.
Jobless claims fell for much of November.
The labor market is strengthening, with nonfarm payrolls increasing solidly in October and November. The unemployment rate dropped to a five-year low of 7.0 percent in November.
The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid increased 40,000 to 2.79 million in the week ended November 30.
Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci