WASHINGTON — The number of laid-off workers filing applications for unemployment benefits was unchanged this past week.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that benefit applications totaled 353,000, the same level as the previous week.

That was a slightly better showing than analysts had been expecting although the benefit applications remain at elevated levels indicating the labor market is under stress.

The government reported last week that employers slashed payrolls by 63,000 in February, the second straight monthly decline in employment and the most dramatic evidence to date that the country could be sliding into a recession.