The number of people seeking unemployment benefits rose a slight 4,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 372,000, evidence that the job market's recovery remains modest and uneven.
The Labor Department says the four-week average, a less volatile measure, increased to 368,000.
Applications are a measure of the pace of layoffs. When they fall consistently below 375,000, it generally suggests hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.
Applications have risen for two straight weeks. But they are still lower than they were five weeks ago. That suggests hiring could improve slightly this month.