WASHINGTON (AP) More new people signed up for unemployment benefits last week, fresh evidence that a general economic sluggishness in the country is spilling over into the job market.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that new applications for unemployment benefits rose by 19,000 to 373,000 last week. The increase was larger than many economists were expecting. They were forecasting claims to rise to around 350,000 last week.

Fallout from a housing bust and credit crunch is sapping the economy's strength. The economy barely grew at 0.6 percent in the final quarter of last year and is expected to be even weaker in the current January-to-March period. With the economy slowing, companies have been reluctant to hire and want to keep their existing work forces lean.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.