January 1, 2009 in Business

Continued unemployment claims rise sharply; new filings are high

By JEANNINE AVERSA Associated Press
 

WASHINGTON – The number of laid-off workers continuing to draw unemployment benefits has surged again, as finding new jobs becomes even more difficult amid a deepening recession.

The Labor Department reported Wednesday that people continuing to draw unemployment benefits increased by 140,000 to 4.5 million for the week ending Dec. 20, the most recent period for which that information is available. That was the most since early December 1982, when the country was emerging from a deep recession, though the labor force has grown by about half since then.

A year ago, the number of people continuing to draw jobless benefits was 2.7 million.

The department’s report also showed that the number of newly laid-off workers filing first-time applications for jobless benefits dropped by a seasonally adjusted 94,000 to 492,000 for the week ending Dec. 27.

That decline, however, didn’t signal any improvement in labor conditions. The drop was mostly related to seasonal adjustment difficulties and reflected some out-of-work people not making it to unemployment offices to file claims over the Christmas holiday, analysts said.

Even with the drop, new filings remained elevated. A year ago, claims stood at 339,000.

Similarly, the four-week moving average of first-time jobless claims, which smooths out week-to-week fluctuations, fell last week to 552,250, a decrease of 5,750 from the prior week. A year ago, this figure was 344,500.

Economists expected “continued” claims to rise to about 4.38 million, and that first-time applications for unemployment benefits would drop to about 550,000.

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