WASHINGTON -- The number of newly laid-off workers seeking unemployment insurance was unchanged last week, remaining above the level that would indicate the economy is adding jobs.

While new claims -- which are considered a gauge of the pace of layoffs and an indication of companies' willingness to hire new workers -- remain far above levels associated with a healthy economy, they are down about 22 percent from this spring.

The Labor Department said Thursday that first-time claims for jobless benefits were a seasonally adjusted 505,000, the same as the previous week's revised figure and matching analysts' expectations. A year ago, there were 533,000 initial claims.

The four-week average, which smooths out volatility, fell for the 11th straight week to 514,000, the lowest level in almost a year.

While the steady decline in claims is evidence that firings are decreasing, most economists say weekly claims would have to fall to about 425,000 for several weeks to signal that the economy is actually adding jobs. Some economists put the number higher, around 475,000.

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Even as claims are falling and the economy has started growing, the unemployment rate is continuing to rise. It jumped to 10.2 percent in October from 9.8 percent, the highest level in more than 26 years, the government said earlier this month.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said early this week that the economy is likely to grow at a "moderate" pace. As a result, the jobless rate "likely will decline only slowly," he said in a speech Monday.

The economy grew at a 3.5 percent annual rate in the July-September quarter, the government said last month. Many economists expect growth to slow in the current quarter as recent reports on industrial production and housing have been disappointing.

The number of people continuing to claim benefits, meanwhile, dropped by 39,000 to 5.6 million for the week ending Nov. 7, the department said. The figures on continuing claims lag initial claims by a week.

But the continuing claims figure does not include millions of people that have used up the regular 26 weeks of benefits typically provided by states, and are receiving extended benefits for up to 73 additional weeks, paid for by the federal government.

Nearly 4.2 million people were receiving extended benefits in the week ended Oct. 31, an increase of 120,000 from the previous week.

Congress added 14 to 20 weeks to the extended program Nov. 6, the fourth extension since the recession began and the longest total extension on record. That boosted the total number of weeks a person could collect unemployment to as much as 99 in the hardest-hit states.

But more than 1 million people will run out of unemployment benefits in January unless Congress quickly extends federal emergency aid, a nonprofit group said Wednesday. The November extension didn't address an underlying problem: The emergency unemployment compensation program, including all additional weeks, expires at the end of this year.