Once again Jobless continuing claims set new record.

For a 10th straight week, the number of people who are continuing to claim jobless benefits increased, fresh evidence that the labor market remains weak despite other hopeful signs that the recession may have bottomed out.

New claims for unemployment benefits last week rose to a seasonally adjusted 652,000 from the previous week’s revised figure of 644,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The total number of people claiming benefits jumped to 5.56 million, worse than economists’ projections of 5.48 million, a ninth straight record and the highest total on records dating back to 1967.

The dismal job news is one indicator of the overall economic pain Americans have endured early in the new year. The Commerce Department said Thursday that the economy shrank at a 6.3 percent annual pace at the end of 2008, the worst showing in a quarter-century, and a bit faster than the 6.2 percent drop estimated a month ago.

The number of people claiming unemployment insurance for more than a week has increased by more than 100,000 four times in the past five weeks, an indication that workers are remaining on the rolls longer as they struggle to land a new job after being laid off.

As a proportion of the work force, the number of people receiving benefits is at its highest level since May 1983, when the economy was recovering from a steep recession. The total of nearly 5.6 million is almost double that of a year ago, when about 2.8 million people were continuing to receive unemployment checks.

And that number doesn’t include an additional 1.47 million people receiving benefits under an extended unemployment compensation program approved by Congress last year. That tally was as of March 7, the latest data available.

Jobless benefits typically last 26 weeks, but Congress approved federal extensions twice last year that added an extra 20 to 33 weeks, depending on each state’s unemployment rate.

Both the new and old fourth-quarter GDP readings were the worst since the first quarter of 1982, when the economy, hit by a severe recession, contracted at a 6.4 percent pace.

Weekly Claims Data

Inquiring minds are investigating the latest Weekly Unemployment Claims statistics. Here are the grim details.

The table shows the 4-week moving average on new claims is essentially the same as last week. However, the insured unemployment 4-week Seasonally Adjusted moving average was 5,331,250, an increase of 123,750 from the preceding week’s revised average of 5,207,500.

These are grim numbers.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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