New claims for jobless benefits rose in the week ended Nov. 29 for the first time in six weeks, but remained below the important 400,000 level for the ninth consecutive week.
The government said claims rose 11,000 to 365,000, more than the consensus estimate of 354,000. The four-week average rose 3,000 to 362,500.
The 400,000 level is considered the dividing line between growth and contraction in the labor market.
After lagging the overall economic recovery, job creation has picked up recently. The economy has added jobs in the past three months and is expected to show a fourth gain when the government releases November employment figures Friday. Economists expect a minimum of 150,000 new jobs, following gains of about 125,000 in both October and September.
The unemployment rate is expected to remain at 6.0% for the second consecutive month.
Earlier this week, the Institute for Supply Management, whose surveys of the manufacturing sector are watched closely by the markets, said its employment index in December showed expansion for the first time in 38 months.
The economy has lost more than 2.4 million jobs, mostly in manufacturing, since the last recession began in March 2001.