By Anna Louie Sussman

WASHINGTON -- The number of Americans applying for first-time unemployment benefits rose last week but remained at historically low levels, a sign the U.S. labor market should continue to generate jobs at a modest pace.

Initial jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs, rose in the week ended Nov. 19 to a seasonally adjusted 251,000, the Labor Department said Wednesday.

Jobless claims for the week ended Nov. 12 were revised down to 233,000 from an initially estimated 235,000. That was the lowest level since 1973.

"Labor demand remains solid, and with full-on labor market tightness setting in, the pace of layoffs has slowed further over the course of the year from what was already a historically low clip," said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities.

Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected 248,000 new claims.

Initial claims have remained below 300,000 for 90 straight weeks, the longest such streak since 1970 -- when the workforce and U.S. population were far smaller than they are today.

"The underlying trend still looks upbeat," said Daniel Silver, an economist at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.

But low claims figures don't necessarily correlate with explosive employment growth. Since 2014, when monthly job gains averaged above 250,000, the pace has slowed to an average of 181,000 so far this year, even as claims have hovered near historic lows.

Data on unemployment-benefit applications can be volatile from week to week. The four-week moving average for initial claims fell last week by 2,000 to 251,000, the lowest level since early October.

The Labor Departmentsaid no special factors affected the latest claims data.

The broader U.S. job market has posted steady if unspectacular gains in recent months. Nonfarm employers added 161,000 jobs in October and the unemployment rate ticked down to 4.9%, while average hourly earnings for private-sector workers rose at the fastest year-over-year pace since the recession, the Labor Department reported in early November.

Wednesday's report showed continuing unemployment claims, drawn by workers for longer than a week, rose by 60,000 to 2,043,000 in the week ended Nov. 12. The continuing-claims data are released with a one-week lag.

The four-week moving average for continuing claims rose to 2,024,750.

Write to Anna Louie Sussman at anna.sussman@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 23, 2016 12:22 ET (17:22 GMT)

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