More Americans than ever before are receiving unemployment benefits as state rolls swelled for the eighth-straight week to hit another record, the Labor Department said Thursday.
The number of laid-off workers continuing to take benefits for the week ended March 7 jumped 185,000 to a seasonally adjusted 5.47 million from 5.29 million the previous week. The increase was much greater than the roughly 5.33 million continuing claims that economists had expected.
But the number of people who filed new unemployment claims last week was down. It dropped to a seasonally adjusted 646,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 658,000, which was ratcheted up from 654,000.
The less-volatile, four-week average for new claims rose to 654,750 — the highest since October 1982 — from 651,000.
While the figures could indicate that the pace of unemployment is leveling off, it also shows that laid-off workers are having a difficult time finding new jobs.
A separate report indicates that the economic downturn has yet to find a bottom, the Conference Board's ndex of Leading Economic Indicators fell 0.4 percent in February after gaining 0.1 percent in January.
The national unemployment rate reached 8.1 percent last month, its highest level in a quarter-century, and many economists expect it to push to 10 percent by the end of the year as employers — squeezed by tight credit and falling consumer demand — are forced into painful cost-cutting.
The latest figures follow the Federal Reserve's move Wednesday to pump $1.2 trillion into the economy to sop up more troubled mortgage-backed securities and free up banks to lend more money and jump-start the recession-battered economy.
Although the total number of Americans on unemployment reached another record, as a proportion of the work force, it represents the highest percentage of claims only since June 1983.
Among the latest layoffs, Caterpillar Inc. said Tuesday that it planned to let go of 2,400 workers as global demand for its mining and construction machines slumps. Mobile device maker Nokia Corp. said it would cut 1,700 jobs worldwide.
From wire services