WASHINGTON  — More Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week following three straight weeks of declines.

Nationally, initial jobless claims rose by 23,000 to 248,000 last week, the U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday. Claims were revised up to 225,000 the previous week.

In Maine, initial claims increased from about 670 the previous week to 740. Continuing weekly claims in Maine increased slightly from 8,170 to 8,250.

The four-week national average for claims, which compensates for weekly volatility, fell by 10,500 to 243,250. It was the second straight week of declines after rising for five straight weeks as the omicron variant of the coronavirus spread, disrupting business in many parts of the United States.

In total, fewer than 1.6 million Americans were collecting jobless aid the week that ended Feb. 5, a decrease of about 26,000 from the previous week.

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