WASHINGTON - The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose last week to a five-week high, evidence that the job market remains sluggish.
The Labor Department says weekly applications for unemployment aid rose 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 383,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, increased for the first time in a month to 374,500.
Applications had leveled off at about 370,000 for four weeks. That decline suggested that hiring could pick up in May. When applications drop below 375,000, it typically suggests that hiring is strong enough to reduce the unemployment rate.
Thursday's figures don't figure into the May employment report, to be released Friday.
That report is based on figures gathered in the middle of the month.
Meanwhile, the U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 1.9 percent in the first three months of the year, slower than first estimated.
The Commerce Department says the downward revision from an initial estimate of 2.2 percent growth in the January-March quarter was largely because consumers spent less than first estimated, business restocked more slowly, and the U.S. trade deficit grew sharply.
Analysts believe the economy is growing at a slightly faster rate this spring. They estimate growth at an annual rate of between 2 percent and 2.5 percent in the April-June quarter. Many expect the economy will maintain that pace for all of 2012, which would represent an improvement from last year's anemic 1.7 percent growth.
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