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New jobless claims fall more than expected

March 20, 2009|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — New jobless claims fell more than expected last week, but continuing claims set a record for the eighth straight week and few economists expect the labor market to improve any time soon.

The Labor Department said Thursday that initial requests for unemployment insurance dropped to a seasonally adjusted 646,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 658,000. That was better than analysts' expectations.

But continuing claims jumped 185,000 to a seasonally adjusted 5.47 million, another record and more than the 5.33 million that economists expected.

The four-week average of claims rose to 654,750, the highest since October 1982, when the economy was emerging from a steep recession, though the labor force has grown by about half since then.

Economists said the signs of life that have cropped up in other areas of the economy in the last week, such as upticks in retail sales and housing starts, aren't yet apparent in the labor market.

"There is no sign of even a temporary easing in the downward pressure on employment," said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics.

Net job losses could top 700,000 in March, he said.

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