Jobless claims post weekly increase

jobsThe number of people filing initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose by 31,000 to a seasonally adjusted 473,000 last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, a sign that labor markets remain very weak.

The four-week average of initial claims fell by 1,500 to 467,500, about 20,000 more than at the first of the year. State jobless claims have risen in five of the seven weeks so far in 2010.

Bad weather around much of the eastern half of nation apparently had little net impact on new claims last week. Many state employment offices were closed but most people file by phone or online. However, it’s likely that some people who lost work due to the storms filed for a claim, wrote John Ryding and Conrad DeQuadros of RDQ Economics.

Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expected initial claims to rise to about 447,000.

The number of people continuing to claim state unemployment benefits was unchanged in the week ending Feb. 6 at 4.56 million, seasonally adjusted, with the four-week average drifting down 24,000 to 4.59 million, the lowest in a year.

“The recent steep declines reported in continuing claims are clearly much more related to expiration of extended benefits for the long-term unemployed than to increased hiring,” wrote Joshua Shapiro, chief economist for MFR Inc. More than half of those who collect unemployment benefits ultimately exhaust their state eligibility before finding work.

In response to the deep recession, the federal government has approved special federal programs as part of its stimulus bills to provide cash benefits to unemployed workers for up to 99 weeks in some states with high unemployment rates.

In the most recent data for the week of Jan. 30, a total of 6.08 million people were collecting extended federal benefits, up 274,000 from the previous week. The federal data are not seasonally adjusted.

All told, in raw numbers not seasonally adjusted, 11.8 million people were collecting some type of unemployment benefits in the week of Jan. 30, up 281,000 from the previous week’s 11.5 million.

Compared with a year ago, initial state claims are down 24 percent, while continuing state claims are down about 2 percent.

Over the past several months, the jobless claims data have flashed two somewhat contradictory messages: Fewer people are losing their jobs than were six months ago, but once a job is lost, it’s very hard to find another one.

As of January, about 6.3 million people ? 41 percent of the 14.8 million people officially classified as unemployed ? had been actively looking for work longer than six months, the Labor Department reported separately.

In a separate report, the Labor Department said the producer price index rose 1.4 percent in January, led by double-digit gains in gasoline and heating oil. The core PPI rose 0.3 percent.

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