The four-week moving average of new claims, a more reliable indicator of the labor market's recent performance because it smooths out volatile weekly data, rose by 1,750 to 410,250.
A Labor Department official said there was nothing unusual in last week's data. Some economists were expecting Hurricane Irene to start impacting claims. The previous two weeks of increases were largely blamed by the Labor Department on a 15-day strike at Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ).
The persistent weakness in the jobs market prompted the Federal Reserve to make a conditional pledge Aug. 9 to keep interest rates close to zero for another two years to try and boost the economy. The Fed expects the unemployment rate, now at 9.1%, to remain high until the end of 2012, when President Barack Obama will try to get reelected for a second term. Obama will lay out his jobs agenda in a speech to Congress next week.
Small business owners continued to report job losses over the last three months, according to the August survey from the National Federation of Independent Business released Thursday. The major "hole" in employment lies in the construction sector, the NFIB poll of 926 respondents showed.
A separate report out Thursday pointed to more weakness in the ailing housing sector. Spending on construction projects fell by 1.3% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $789.51 billion, the Commerce Department said.
Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires projected spending to climb 0.3%. But the sharp decrease came after a 1.6% gain in June, upwardly revised from an originally reported 0.2% increase.
Eyes now turn to the key employment report for August, due Friday. That's expected to show the economy added just a few jobs, while the unemployment rate was stuck at 9.1%.
--Jeff Bater and Kathleen Madigan contributed to this story.