US jobless claims tick higher

First-time claims for US unemployment benefits climbed last week but the overall trend continued to head slowly downward, government data released Thursday showed.

Initial jobless claims, a sign of the pace of layoffs, totaled a seasonally adjusted 320,000 in the week ending March 15, up from the prior week's 315,000, the Labor Department said.

Most analysts had forecast a larger rise to 330,000 claims.

But the downward trend was visible as the post-recession labor market gradually recovers. The four-week moving average, which helps to smooth out week-over-week volatility, fell by 3,500 to 327,000 claims. A year ago the average stood at 340,750 claims.

"Prior to the last couple weeks, the initial claims level -- absent unexpected seasonal biases -- was bounded between 330,000 and 340,000. The latest data show a slight downward move from that range. This could be the start of another stage in the improvement in labor market conditions," said in a research note.

In February, the US unemployment rate was 6.7 percent and the economy added 175,000 jobs, picking up the pace of job growth.