Initial claims for unemployment benefits rose for the third straight week to their highest level since late February, the Labor Department said Thursday.
First-time claims last week reached a seasonally adjusted level of 344,000, up 14,000 from a week earlier.
Economists' median forecast predicted a drop to 320,000, according to Action Economics survey.
The Labor Department said the four-week moving average also rose to 320,000, up 4,000 from a week ago.
The previous week's estimate was revised up by 1,000 to 330,000.
Claims have been climbing since early April when they reached a seven-year low of 301,000, but they remain well below their peak levels that were well over 600,000 a week in 2009.
Jobless claims are a proxy for layoffs, so higher numbers could suggest a weakening labor market. But analysts caution that weekly unemployment claims can be volatile, not least during the Easter-school spring break period.
Other recent data point to improvement in the jobs market. Payroll processor ADP reported Wednesday that companies added 220,000 jobs in April, the most since November and more than economists had forecast.
Economists surveyed by Action Economics predict the Labor Department will report Friday that U.S. payrolls overall, including governments, increased payrolls by 210,000 jobs last month. Average monthly gains for January through March were 176,000.
Economists also predict Friday's report will show the unemployment rate fell to 6.6% from 6.7% in March.