The weekly figure for initial unemployment claims in the United States rose by 16,000 last week to a total of 360,000, the highest level in two months, the Department of Labor said Thursday.

Last week's figures could result from seasonal changes in employment patterns at the beginning of summer in major industries such as auto manufacturing, and in educational institutions.

The school year ends at the beginning of summer and auto manufacturers close down part of their operations to recondition their factories, causing temporary layoffs in both areas.

The average number of initial jobless claims over four weeks, which is the most reliable indicator of the trend, rose by 6,000 for a total of 351,750 in the first week of July.

In the week ending June 29, the number of people receiving government checks for unemployment benefits dropped 24,000 for a total of 2.98 million.

Unemployment benefits traditionally cover up to 26 weeks, but in 2008, to ease the worst and most prolonged recession in almost 80 years, the federal government instituted programs that extended the benefits. EFE