- Associated Press - Thursday, January 12, 2012

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of people applying for weekly unemployment benefits spiked last week, largely because companies let thousands of workers go after the holiday season.

The Labor Department says applications jumped by 24,000 to a seasonally adjusted 399,000, the most in six weeks. That increase followed three months of steady declines that brought applications to the lowest level in more than three years.

Applications typically soar in the first two weeks of the year because companies are letting go of temporary workers brought on to help during the holidays. The department attempts to adjust for those patterns, but the data can be volatile.

The four-week average, which smooths fluctuations, also rose, to 381,750. It had fallen to a 3½-year low in the previous week.

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