WASHINGTON -- Initial jobless claims rose more than expected last week, to 336,000, but remained near their lowest level since 2007.

The number of people filing for first-time unemployment benefits was up from the previous week's revised figure of 323,000, which was the fewest since October 2007, the Labor Department said Thursday.

Analysts had been expecting a more modest increase, to 329,000.

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The less-volatile four-week average continued to drop last week, falling 2,250 to a new post-Great Recession low of 330,500. The last time the four-week average was lower was in November 2007.

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Federal Reserve officials are watching labor market indicators closely as they try to decide when to begin reducing their bond-buying stimulus program.

Minutes released Wednesday from the Fed's last policymaking meeting indicate that the central bank is preparing to taper its $85 billion in monthly purchases next month.

Initial jobless claims have been trending down this year, a sign the labor market is improving. In January, there were an average of 360,000 weekly claims.

Economists say that claims below 350,000 indicate moderate job growth. And the weekly numbers are consistent with the approximately 180,000 net new jobs added each month from April through July.

But job growth slowed last month, with the economy adding 162,000 net new jobs. That was the fewest since March. The unemployment rate dropped to 7.4%, its lowest level since December 2008.

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