US unemployment claims rise third straight week to 362,000

A hiring sign is placed at a booth for prospective employers during a job fair Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021, in the West Hollywood section of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

WASHINGTON (AP) - The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose for the third straight week, a sign that the highly contagious delta variant may be slowing a recovery in the job market.

Claims rose unexpectedly by 11,000 last week to 362,000, the Labor Department said Thursday, though economists had been expecting claims to go in the opposite direction. The four-week moving average of claims, which smooths out week-to-week ups and downs, rose for the first time in seven weeks to 340,000.

Since topping 900,000 in early January, applications had fallen fairly steadily as the economy bounced back from last year's shutdowns. But they've been rising along with coronavirus infections.

The applications, which are a proxy for layoffs, remain elevated: Before the pandemic hit the United States hard in March 2020, they were typically coming in at around 220,000 a week.

America's