WASHINGTON - (AP) - More people applied for unemployment benefitslast week, one week after claims had fallen to the lowest level innearly three years.

The big drop a week earlier had occurred largely because badweather in many parts of the country had kept people from applyingfor benefits.

The Labor Department said Thursday that 410,000 people soughtunemployment assistance last week, a jump of 25,000 from theprevious week. The rise was much larger than economists hadexpected.

Applications are well below their peak of 651,000, reached inMarch 2009, when the economy was in the depths of the recession.Applications below 425,00 are viewed as a signal of modest jobgrowth but they would need to dip consistently to 375,000 or belowto indicate a significant and steady decline in the unemploymentrate.

The big jump in benefit applications followed a week in whichthe applications had fallen to a revised 385,000, the lowest levelsince July 2008. That improvement had reflected severe winterweather in much of the country that forced the closing ofgovernment offices and prevented people from filing applicationsfor benefits.

Economists had been looking for a rebound last week as acatch-up from the weather disruptions although the consensus viewhad been that claims would only rise to around 400,000.

The four-week average for benefit applications edged up to417,750 last week, slightly above the two-year low of 411,250reached in the week ending Jan. 1.

The unemployment rate fell to 9 percent in January after thefastest two-month drop in more than a half-century. Even with a 9percent unemployment rate, close to 14 million people are out ofwork.

The Labor Department said that 3.91 million people werereceiving regular unemployment benefits. That data is one weekbehind the figures for new applications. Another 4.5 million peopleout of work for a longer period are receiving extended unemploymentbenefits.

The latest data available shows that 9.25 million people werereceiving various types of government unemployment support for theweek ending Jan. 29.

An AP Economy Survey of top forecasters projects that employerswill create a net total of 2.2 million jobs this year, up from909,000 jobs created last year.