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More Americans sought unemployment aid last week

WASHINGTON — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose last week, only the second increase in six weeks.

The Labor Department says applications rose by 26,000 to a seasonally adjusted 397,000 during the week ended March 5. The rise comes after applications fell to their lowest level in nearly three years in the previous week.

The latest report covers the week after the Feb. 21 Presidents’ Day holiday, when many government offices were closed. Applications usually rise in weeks following holiday-shortened weeks. Most economists expect applications will continue to decline as the economy improves.

Applications below 425,000 signal modest job growth. But they need to fall consistently below 375,000 to signal a decline in the unemployment rate. Unemployment benefit applications peaked during the recession at 651,000.

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