Weekly Unemployment Claims Spike Again

The number of Americans filing initial unemployment claims rose sharply last week and the jobless rolls topped 5.1 million as durable goods orders for January fell for a sixth straight month, according to reports released Thursday.

In addition, the sale of new homes also fell to a record low annual pace of 309,000 in January, the Commerce Department reported.

The latest Labor Department figures released Thursday showed that employers were shedding additional jobs. 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. A year ago, initial claims stood at about 359,000.

The weekly initial claims numbers can be volatile, so economists prefer to look at the four-week moving average. That figure rose to 639,000, a plateau it hasn't reached since October 1982. Although the labor force was far smaller 26 years ago, as a proportion of the work force, the number of people continuing to receive benefits is at its highest point since July 1983.

Although the number of laid-off Americans continuing to receive unemployment benefits topped 5.1 million, that doesn't include another 1.4 million receiving benefits under an extended unemployment compensation program approved by Congress last year. That brings the total number of recipients to roughly 6.5 million.

Among the states, New Jersey had the biggest increase in jobless claims for the week ending Feb. 14, a jump of 2,093 that it attributed to layoffs in the service, transportation and manufacturing industries. The next largest increases were in Virginia, Rhode Island, Vermont and South Dakota.

California saw the largest drop in claims, a decline of 16,550, which it attributed to fewer layoffs in service industries. Drops of 4,000 or more also were reported in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Illinois and New York.

The Commerce Department reported Thursday that sales of newly built single-family homes slumped to a record low in January, while prices fell to their weakest level in five years.

Sales plunged 10.2 percent to a 309,000 annual pace, the lowest on records dating back to 1963, from an upwardly revised 344,000 in December. Many economists had expected a decline in January, but not nearly so steep. The report said the backlog of unsold new homes is at a record high 13.3 months.

In a separate report, Commerce said that U.S. manufacturers saw orders for big-ticket goods plunge by a larger-than-expected 5.2 percent in January, the sixth consecutive month of decline.

New orders excluding transportation dropped 2.5 percent in January, while motor vehicles and parts fell 6.4 percent. Nondefense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending, fell 5.4 percent in January. The previous month was revised to show a 5.8 percent plunge, previously reported as a 3.2 percent drop.

From wire service reports.

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