WASHINGTON -- Initial jobless claims rose a bit to 320,000 last week, but remained low as the effects of severe winter weather continued to ease, according to Labor Department data released Thursday.

The number of people filing for first-time unemployment benefits was up 5,000 from the previous week's figure, which was the lowest since November.

But the increase was less than forecast. Economists had projected claims would rise to 325,000 last week.

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Bitter cold and snowstorms created volatility with jobs and other economic data this winter, leading to  elevated claims numbers.

But the figures have come down as spring approached. The four-week average fell last week to 327,000, well below the 350,000 level that signifies moderate labor market growth.

The report came a day after the Federal Reserve announced it was continuing to scale back its stimulus efforts because of improvements in the labor market.

Job creation rebounded in February after two lackluster months affected by bad winter weather.

Despite the addition of 175,000 net new jobs last month, the unemployment rate ticked up to 6.7%. But that still was a full percentage point lower than a year earlier.

With the rate approaching the 6.5% threshold the Fed had set to consider raising short-term interest rates, central bank policymakers said they would look at broader measures of the labor market and economy before deciding when to tighten monetary policy.

"Progress in the labor market has been more rapid than we had anticipated," Fed Chairwoman Janet L. Yellen said Wednesday.

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