people attend an employment orientation class
people attend an employment orientation class

More Americans than expected filed for unemployment benefits for the first time last week, although the underlying trend still points to declining jobless claims and a strengthening labor market.

The U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday that initial claims for unemployment jumped by 17,000 during the week ending April 30 to a seasonally-adjusted 274,000. This represents the biggest gain in initial weekly jobless claims since February of last year.

Despite the increase, weekly jobless claims remain below 300,000, a threshold linked to a healthy labor market.

The jobless claims report is unlikely to affect what some economists expect to be a strong monthly unemployment report on Friday.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics is expected to report a net gain of more than 200,000 jobs in April, nudging the jobless rate down to 4.9 percent, a slight improvement from the rate of 5 percent the previous month.

If the April jobs numbers fall in line with the first quarter monthly average of 209,000 jobs, it will be welcome news for new college graduates.  They will enter the "best job market since the Great Recession," said senior economic analyst Mark Hamrick.

Although it will be easier for new college graduates to find a job, they will still confront "inconsistent" and "underwhelming" wage growth, he said.