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      Unemployment benefit filings up by 16,000 last week

      WASHINGTON (AP) - The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits jumped by 16,000 last week, the second straight weekly increase. But the longer-term trend in layoffs remained consistent with an improved job market.

      The Labor Department says applications increased to a seasonally adjusted 357,000 for the week ending March 23. That's up from 341,000 the previous week, which was revised slightly higher. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose 2,250 to 343,000. That's only slightly higher than the previous week's five-year low of 340,750.

      Economists pay closer attention to the four-week average.

      Applications are a proxy for layoffs. They have been declining steadily since November, coinciding with solid job growth.