Washington: The number of people filing initial applications for unemployment benefits rose last week by 15,000 to 381,000, the US Labor Department said on Thursday.

But the rolling four-week average of new claims, viewed as a better gauge of underlying trends, fell 5,750 to 375,000, its lowest level since June 2008.

A four-week average below 400,000 is seen as a positive indicator. New jobless claims were running at around 700,000 a week when President Barack Obama took office in January 2009.

The number of people receiving state unemployment benefits rose 34,000 during the week that ended Dec 17, to 3.6 million, while the ranks of recipients of state or federal jobless aid increased by 79,385 to 7.23 million.

State benefits generally run out after 26 weeks, but the worst economic slump since the Great Depression prompted lawmakers to approve federal emergency programs that provide jobless benefits for up to 99 weeks.

The US economy lost 8.4 million jobs between December 2007 and June 2009, when the recession officially ended.

The Labor Department's November jobs report, released Dec. 9, showed the unemployment rate dropping from 9 percent to 8.6 percent as the economy added 120,000 net new jobs. The rate now stands at its lowest level in 2 1/2 years