WASHINGTON - Claims for US unemployment insurance rose for the second week in a row toward the end of November to reach the highest level since June, the Labor Department said Thursday. New claims for jobless benefits in the week ending November 26 rose 17,000 to 268,000, surpassing a consensus forecast among analysts, which expected an increase of only 2,000. In the previous week claims increased 18,000.

The result nevertheless marked 91 straight weeks of initial claims below 300,000, a streak not seen since 1970. And the four-week moving average stood at 251,500, an increase of just 500. Weekly claims for jobless benefits can be used as a measure of the prevalence of layoffs and the strength of labor markets, but tend to be volatile.

The report comes ahead of Friday's highly anticipated monthly employment data, which have shown robust hiring in recent months, pushing the Federal Reserve closer to an increase in interest rates above their current historically low levels.

US monetary policymakers appear poised to raise interest rates for the first time in a year when they gather later this month for their final meeting of 2016.