02/12/2015 08:40 EST | Updated 04/14/2015 05:59 EDT

Applications for US unemployment benefits jump, though remain at historically low levels

WASHINGTON - The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits jumped last week, though it is still at relatively low levels pointing to healthy hiring.

The Labor Department says applications rose 25,000 to a seasonally adjusted 304,000. The increase comes two weeks after applications plunged by 42,000. That drop likely reflected seasonal volatility stemming from the end of the holiday shopping season and the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, when state unemployment offices were closed.

The four-week average, which smooths out the volatility, fell to 289,750. That is down 14 per cent from a year ago.

The average has been near or below 300,000 since September, a historically low level that points to strong hiring. Employers have added more than a million jobs in the past three months, the fastest pace in 17 years.