The government says applications for unemployment benefits rose 27,000 to a seasonally adjusted 412,000 for the week ended April 9. That left applications at their highest point since mid-February.
Applications near 375,000 are consistent with a sustained increase in hiring. Applications peaked during the recession at 659,000.
The four-week average of applications, a less volatile measure, rose to 395,750. However, applications have dropped about 6 percent over the past two months. At the same time, businesses have stepped up hiring.
"The picture we still get — even with this one-week pop — is that the labor market is getting better," said economist Joel Naroff of Naroff Economic Advisors. "The unemployment claims trend over an extended period of time is positive."
Companies added more than 200,000 jobs in March for the second straight month, the first time that has happened since 2006. The unemployment rate fell to a two-year low of 8.8 percent and has dropped a full percentage point since November.
However, a more sobering reason for the drop is that the number of people who are either working or seeking a job is surprisingly low for this stage of the recovery. People without jobs who aren't looking for one aren't counted as unemployed. Once they start looking again, they're classified as unemployed, and the unemployment rate can go back up.