WASHINGTON, Dec 1 (Reuters) - - The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week, hitting their highest level in five months, but the underlying trend remained consistent with a strengthening labor market.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 17,000 to a seasonally adjusted 268,000 for the week ended Nov. 26, the Labor Department said on Thursday. That was the highest level since June and marked the second straight week of increases.
Claims for the prior week were unrevised.
Despite the increase, claims remained below the 300,000 threshold, which is associated with a healthy labor market, for the 91st straight week. That is the longest run since 1970, when the labor market was much smaller.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast first-time applications for jobless benefits rising to 253,000 in the latest week.
Claims, which hit a 43-year low in mid-November, tend to be volatile around this time of the year as the model the government uses to strip out seasonal fluctuations from the data does not fully account for changes in the timings of different holidays.
A Labor Department analyst said there were no special factors influencing last week's data and that no states had been estimated. The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, edged up 500 to 251,500 last week.
Last week's claims data has no bearing on November's employment report, which is scheduled for release on Friday, as it falls outside the survey period.
New filings for jobless benefits fell between the October and November survey weeks, supporting expectations for another month of solid employment gains. According to a Reuters survey of economists, nonfarm payrolls probably increased by 175,000 jobs last month after rising 161,000 in October.
The strong labor market, viewed as being at or near full employment, combined with signs of a firming economy and steadily rising inflation are expected to encourage the Federal Reserve to hike interest rates at its Dec. 13-14 policy meeting.
The U.S. central bank raised its benchmark overnight interest rate last December for the first time in nearly a decade.
Thursday's claims report also showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid increased 38,000 to 2.08 million in the week ended Nov. 19. The four-week average of the so-called continuing claims rose 12,750 to 2.04 million.
(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)