Applications for U.S. jobless benefits unexpectedly rose last week, to the highest since mid-February, underscoring how the labor market is recovering in fits and starts.

Initial claims in regular state programs rose by 45,000 to 770,000 in the week ended March 13, Labor Department data showed Thursday. On an unadjusted basis, the claims rose by 24,318 to 746,496. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey called for 700,000 initial claims.

Continuing claims — an approximation of the number of people filing for ongoing state benefits fell for the ninth week to 4.12 million in the week ended March 6.

The initial claims figures underscore how the labor market is still grappling with business closures and health concerns. The applications were filed in the same week that President Joe Biden signed a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package that extended some jobless benefits into September.

States with the largest increases in initial claims last week included Texas, Illinois and Virginia. Meanwhile, Ohio posted the largest decrease.

Claims in all federal programs declined in the week ended Feb. 27. The total number of claims in all unemployment programs was 18.22 million that week.

The data correspond with the survey period for the Labor Departments monthly unemployment figures, and could set the tone for the March jobs report.

Meantime, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia said its gauge of manufacturing in the region jumped to the highest level since April 1973, indicating additional strength among factories. The report on Thursday also showed more signs of inflation pressure as a measure of prices paid advanced to the highest in more than four decades.

The recovery remains uneven and far from complete, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said during a press conference Wednesday.

There are 10 million people that need to get back to work and its going to take some time for that to happen, Powell said. Its not going to happen overnight.

With assistance by Sophie Caronello

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