WASHINGTON – The number of people applying for new jobless benefits rose more than expected in the most recent weekly report, which contained mixed data on an employment environment that has seen substantial gains in recent months.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported that initial claims for regular state unemployment-insurance benefits rose 16,000 to 357,000 in the week that ended March 23, reaching the highest level since mid-February.

Rising claims signal more layoffs, and initial claims have increased for two consecutive weeks.

Economists had expected initial jobless claims for regular state unemployment-insurance benefits to rise to 339,000 from an original estimate of 336,000 in the prior week, according to a MarketWatch survey. Meanwhile, the average of new claims over the past month, which irons out weekly volatility, rose a modest 2,250 to 343,000.

On Thursday, the government revised the prior week’s level to 341,000.

The government also said its analysts have made annual revisions to seasonal-adjustment factors, impacting claims levels back to 2008.