The bad news: More people applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week. The good news: Jobless claims remain close to pre-recession levels.

According to the Labor Department, weekly applications for unemployment aid reached 311,000 this week, an increase of 21,000 over the prior week—the total of which has been revised up slightly to 290,000.

The four-week average saw an increase to a lesser extent, rising 2,000 to 295,750, a figure close to the averages from before the recession in late 2007.

The increase in applications for unemployment reverses the recent fall below 300,000—the second decrease in three weeks—but follows the trend of fluctuating near the 300,000 mark, proving the U.S. labor market is steadily improving. In fact, companies have been hiring at a faster pace in recent months: Government data released Tuesday showed that in June, employers advertised the most monthly job openings in more than 13 years.