Blame it on the weather.
The number of Americans filing for initial unemployment insurance surged to just below the 500,000 level last week, and have climbed more than 12 percent over the past two weeks, according to government data.
There were 496,000 initial job claims filed in the week ended Feb. 20, up 22,000 from a revised 474,000 the previous week, the Labor Department said in its weekly report. Unemployment claims in Michigan decreased by 1,621.
"This is certainly not surprising given the very adverse weather conditions for the eastern half of the country, especially in the major population areas," said Robert Dye, a senior economist at PNC Financial Services. "Weather has a huge impact, particularly with things like construction, which remains very soft."
He expects employment to pick up in the next couple of months as private sector hiring continues and the government boosts its hiring of temporary census workers.
"I would expect that once we get into March and get beyond the weather-related effects, we'll see continued improvement in overall jobless claims," said Dye.