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U.S. jobless claims rise, but government analyst says backlog distorting data

Job seekers listen to a presentation at the Colorado Hospital Association health care career fair in Denver April 9, 2013. REUTERS/Rick Wilk
Job seekers listen to a presentation at the Colorado Hospital Association health care career fair in Denver April 9, 2013. REUTERS/Rick Wilk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits rose last week, but it was difficult to get a clear read on the labor market's health because a Labor Department analyst said two states appeared to be working through a backlog of unprocessed claims.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 309,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday.

Claims data have been thrown into disarray since an update in government computer systems in California and Nevada created a backlog in the processing of new claims two weeks ago.

That initially led to a sharp decline in new processed claims earlier this month, and a Labor Department analyst said the two states still appeared to be working through the backlog, which he said could take another week or two.

If taken at face value, the data hinted at a pickup in hiring during September. The data was collected during the same week the Labor Department surveys employers for its monthly employment report.

At 314,750, the four-week average was about 5 percent lower than it was during the employment report's survey week in August, when employers added a lackluster 169,000 jobs to payrolls.

However, even that reading, which smooths out weekly volatility, could rise in coming weeks if a backlog of claims continues to be cleared.

(Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Krista Hughes)

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