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Weekly jobless claims rise by largest amount in 16 months

Weekly jobless claims rise by largest amount in 16 months

The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits shot up last week by the largest amount in 16 months, reversing two weeks of big declines.
The Labor Department reported Thursday that 325,000 newly laid-off workers filed claims for jobless benefits last week, an increase of 36,000 from the previous week. That was the biggest one-week rise since a surge of 96,000 claims the week of Sept. 10, 2005, when devastated Gulf Coast businesses laid off workers following Hurricane Katrina.
The increase of 36,000 was bigger than the 20,000 rise that had been forecast. Analysts, however, cautioned that it is difficult to read the claims figures at this time of year because of unusually wide swings caused by the holidays and other factors.
Based on past trends, claims numbers often surge in third week of the month as retail businesses shed seasonal workers hired to help with the crush of holiday shoppers. However, this year, the layoffs were much higher than in past years.
The jump in jobless layoffs followed a string of reports showing the economy was performing at a better-than-expected pace at the end of 2006 and the beginning of the new year. Employers added 167,000 new jobs in December, helping to keep the unemployment rate at 4.5 percent.
Economists believe that while growth has slowed because of the steep downturn in housing, they expect the United States will be able to avoid an outright recession.
The 36,000 increase in layoffs followed two weeks in which jobless claims had fallen by a combined 36,000. The four-week moving average for layoffs, designed to smooth out the weekly volatility, edged up slightly to 309,250 from 207,750 the previous week.
For the week ending Jan. 13, a total of 33 states and territories reported an increase in claims before adjusting for seasonal variations while 20 states and territories reported declines in claims.
The increases were led by California, which saw jobless claims rise by 10,115, an increase blamed on higher layoffs in construction and service industries.
The states with the biggest decline in layoffs were New York, down by 26,764; North Carolina, down by 10,072 and Georgia, down by 8.987.
The state data is not adjusted for seasonal variations.