Applications for U.S. unemployment benefits rose by 18,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 354,000.

Despite the gain, the level remains consistent with moderate job growth.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the less volatile four-week average increased by 2,500 to 348,250.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. Since January, they have fallen 6 percent. That suggests companies are cutting fewer jobs.

At the same time, hiring has been steady, despite an increase in taxes on Jan. 1 and steep federal spending cuts that began in March. Solid consumer spending and a rebound in housing have helped the economy weather the fiscal drag.