WASHINGTON - The number of U.S. workers filing new claims for state unemployment benefits rose last week.

This increase suggests the labor market could be starting to cool.

First-time jobless claims rose 5,000, to a seasonally adjusted 302,000 last week, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week moving average, which removes some of the volatility seen in the weekly figure, rose to its highest level in almost a year.

"The labor markets are still tight but probably not getting any tighter," said Tim McGee, chief economist at Tokai Bank Ltd. in New York.

The four-week moving average rose to 300,500 last week, from 296,250 the week before. Last week's average was the highest since 305,250 in the week that ended July 17, 1999.

Analysts who were surveyed had expected claims to fall to 295,000 last week, from a previously reported 296,000 the preceding week.

First-time jobless claims have risen since reaching a 26-year low of 257,000 in the week that ended April 15.

The recent rise in the number of people filing new claims for unemployment benefits, along with statistics showing falling retail sales and new home construction, suggests that the six Fed interest rate increases in the past year are starting to cool the economy.

The Labor Department also said that 16 states or territories reported a drop in new jobless claims in the week that ended June 10, while 37 reported an increase.

People receiving unemployment benefits totaled 2.045 million in the week that ended June 10, up 33,000, the Labor Department said. The insured unemployment rate was unchanged at 1.6%.

The jobless claims data for the week that ended June 17 coincide with the Labor Department's survey week for its June employment report, which is to be released July 7.

In May the nation's unemployment rate rose to 4.1% from a 30-year low of 3.9% in April as businesses shed 116,000 jobs, the Labor Department reported this month.

Boeing Co., the world's biggest planemaker, said last week that, in a bid to raise efficiency, it is in talks to sell a 1,700-worker parts operation at a military aircraft plant in St. Louis.

The move could force some job cuts, Boeing said.

Still, the jury is out on whether the economy is slowing enough.

- Siobhan Hughes, Bloomberg News

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