First-time unemployment claims surprisingly jumped last week to a two-month high of 344,000, a downbeat sign ahead of Friday's jobs report.
The number of people filing for initial jobless benefits was up from the previous week's revised figure of 330,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists had expected the figure to drop to 320,000.
The 344,000 claims were the most since late February.
Last week was the third in a row in which claims rose. It's a discouraging trend after the closely watched labor market indicator dropped to 301,000 in the week ended April 5, the lowest level since May 2007.
The four-week average, which smoothes out some of the volatility, rose by 3,000 to 320,000 last week. That measure had fallen to 312,000 in the week ended April 12, the lowest reading since October 2007 -- two months before the start of the Great Recession.
The new figures add to mixed labor market data and could dampen projections for a jump in job growth last month.
Analysts forecast that the Labor Department will report Friday that the economy added a total of 215,000 net new jobs in April and that the unemployment rate ticked down to 6.6%. The labor market added 192,000 jobs in March.
On Wednesday, payroll firm Automatic Data Processing said private-sector hiring picked up last month to 220,000 net new jobs.
"Because unemployment claims were so low in the first two weeks of April ... economists boosted their payroll jobs forecasts to the sky," said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi in New York.
"We hope the labor market improvement was not a mirage," he said.