Job applicants enter the 'Denver Hires Job Fair' on December 5, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. Last week the U.S. government announced that the national unemployment rate has fallen to 8.6 percent, lower than most analysts had predicted and the lowest since 2009. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
The increase represents a rebound from the previous week's sharp drop. Both swings were largely due to technical factors.
The Labor Department says the four-week average of applications, a less volatile measure, fell slightly to 365,500, a level consistent with modest hiring.
Last week, California reported a large drop in applications, pushing down the overall figure to the lowest since February 2008.
This week, it reported a significant increase as it processed applications delayed from the previous week.
A department spokesman says the seasonally adjusted numbers "are being distorted ... by an issue of timing."
Applications are a proxy for layoffs. When they decline, it suggests hiring is improving.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)