Initial weekly jobless claims continued their recent upward trend, posting a 2.4% increase for the week ended Aug. 14, marking the third-consecutive week of gains in the number of people filing for unemployment. The Labor Department said seasonally adjusted initial claims for the week reached 500,000, up 12,000 from the previous week's revised figure. The gain was a surprise to financial markets, as economists were expecting a slight decline according to most consensus estimates. The four-week moving average of 482,500 claims is up roughly 1.7% from the prior week's revised average of 474,500 and is now at its highest level since December, according to the Labor Department data. The weekly claims level of 500,000 is the highest since the middle of November last year, and at a pace most economists see as indicative of overall contraction in the economy. Claims figures from one week earlier, Aug. 7, were revised upward from an original estimate of 484,000. Last week, HousingWire reported that finance and housing regulators are preparing a combined $3bn of financial assistance to aid mortgage borrowers in states most affected by unemployment. In July, President Obama signed a bill to extend a cutoff for an extension of benefits to Nov. 30 from June 2 and increase the number of weeks the unemployed can collect benefits. Write to Jason Philyaw.