New jobless claims rose more than expected last week and the number of laid-off Americans continuing to receive unemployment benefits topped 5.1 million, fresh evidence the recession is increasingly forcing employers to shed jobs.
The Labor Department said Thursday that first-time requests for unemployment benefits jumped to 667,000 from the previous week's figure of 631,000. Analysts had expected a slight drop in claims.
The 667,000 new claims are the most since October 1982, though the labor force has grown by about half since then.
The number of people receiving unemployment insurance for more than one week also increased more than expected to 5.1 million. That's the fifth straight week the figure has set a new record-high on data going back to 1967, and compared with only about 2.8 million people a year ago.
As a proportion of the work force, the number of people continuing to receive benefits has reached its highest point since July 1983.
An additional 1.4 million people were receiving benefits under an extended unemployment compensation program approved by Congress last year, as of Feb. 7, the latest data available. That brings the total number of jobless benefit recipients to roughly 6.5 million.
The increase in continuing claims is an indication that many newly laid off workers are having difficulty finding jobs.
Economists consider jobless claims a timely, if volatile, indicator of the health of the labor markets and broader economy. A year ago, initial claims stood at about 359,000.
The labor market has deteriorated rapidly in recent months. Employers cut a net total of nearly 600,000 jobs in January, the highest monthly tally since 1974, sending the unemployment rate to 7.6 percent.
More job losses were announced this week. The NFL said Wednesday that commissioner Roger Goodell has taken a 20 percent pay cut and the league dropped 169 jobs through buyouts, layoffs and other reductions. Spartanburg, S.C.-based textile maker Milliken & Co. said it would cut 650 jobs at facilities worldwide, while jeweler Zale Corp. said it will close 115 stores and eliminate 245 positions.
On Monday, troubled flash memory maker Spansion Inc. said it will lay off about 3,000 employees and computer chip maker Micron Technology Inc. announced it will slash as many as 2,000 workers by the end of August.