NEW YORK -
More Americans filed for their first week of unemployment benefits last week, as improvement in the job market remains choppy.
About 367,000 people filed for first-time unemployment benefits in the week ended September 29, up 4,000 from the previous week, the Labor Department said Thursday.
The weekly claims figure is often seen as a proxy for layoffs, so when it rises, it's considered to be a discouraging sign for the job market.
That said, it's been hard to get a clear reading on jobless claims lately.
"Jobless claims data show little momentum in either direction and continue to signal that labor market conditions have been broadly unchanged in recent months," said Michael Gapen, senior U.S. economist with Barclays, in a note to clients.
Initial claims have been bouncing around between 350,000 to 400,000 per week since the beginning of the year.
Economists often prefer to look at a four-week moving average to smooth out the volatility, but even that indicator has barely changed over the past month.
With that in mind, economists say it's likely the monthly jobs report, due Friday, will once again show rather lackluster jobs growth.
Economists surveyed by CNNMoney predict that employers added 110,000 jobs in September, only a slight improvement over the 96,000 jobs added in August.
Job growth at that level is not robust enough to keep up with population growth, and the unemployment rate is expected to remain at 8.1%.
About 3.3 million Americans continued to file for their second week of unemployment benefits in the week ended September 22, the most recent data available.