WASHINGTON — More Americans sought unemployment benefits last week. Yet even with the increase, applications for jobless aid remain low, a reassuring sign after hiring slowed last month.

The Labor Department says weekly applications rose 14,000 to a seasonally adjusted 281,000. The increase occurred after applications plummeted to match a 15-year low in the previous week.

The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell 3,000 to 282,250. The average has fallen 11.8 percent in the past year.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs, so the steep decline in the last 12 months suggests that companies are cutting fewer jobs.

The number of people receiving benefits fell to 2.3 million, the fewest in more than 14 years. That reflects the decline in layoffs and the end of extended benefits a year ago.

CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER, AP Economics Writer