New claims for US unemployment insurance benefits rose last week from a seven-year low as the labour market slowly improves, official data released today showed. 

Initial jobless claims, a measure of the pace of layoffs, totalled 326,000 in the week ending May 17, a gain of 28,000 from the prior week, the Labor Department said.

The previous week's number was revised up by 1,000 to 298,000, the first time the claims totalled less than 300,000 since May 2007.

The improving trend in the US labour market was reflected in the four-week moving average of claims last week, which fell to 322,500, down by 1,000 from the prior week's slightly revised average. A year ago the four-week average was 340,750.

Last week's rise in claims was more than analysts expected, with the average estimate of an increase to 305,000.

The US economy added 288,000 jobs in April, the strongest job growth in more than two years. The unemployment rate fell to 6.3% from 6.7% in March. That was the lowest level in nearly six years, but it stemmed from a sharply shrinking labour force.