UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMS UP: Slightly more Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week. But the overall level stayed low enough to suggest the job market is strengthening.

THE NUMBERS: The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications increased by 8,000 to a seasonally adjusted 362,000. The four-week average, which smooths week-to-week fluctuations, was essentially unchanged and stayed near a four-year low.

TRENDING LOW: Applications have fallen 14 percent since October. The steady decline has coincided with three months of big hiring gains.