Jobless claims surge to 2-month high

The number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment insurance surged to a 2-month high last week, the government said Thursday.

There were 482,000 initial job claims filed in the week ended Jan. 16, up 36,000 from a revised 446,000 the previous week, the Labor Department said in a weekly report.

A consensus estimate of economists surveyed by expected new claims to fall to 440,000.

The 4-week moving average of initial claims was 448,250, up 7,000 from the previous week’s revised average of 441,250.

Continuing claims: The government said 4,599,000 people filed continuing claims in the week ended Jan. 9, the most recent data available. That’s down 18,000 from the preceding week’s revised 4,617,000 claims.

The 4-week moving average for ongoing claims fell by 109,750 to 4,750,500 from the previous week’s revised 4,860,250.{loadposition in-article}

But the drop may just mean that more filers are dropping off those rolls into extended benefits.

Continuing claims reflect people filing each week after their initial claim until the end of their standard benefits, which usually last 26 weeks. The figures do not include those people who have moved to state or federal extensions, or people whose benefits have expired.

In November, Congress passed a record-long extension of federally paid benefits to up to 99 weeks. But the law only helps those who have used up their first 26 weeks of benefits by the end of 2009, so depending on the state, not everyone will receive benefits for the entire 99-week span.

The House and the Senate passed measures in December to extend the filing deadline through the end of February.

Lawmakers in both chambers had initially introduced bills to push the deadline to apply for benefits as far back as 2011, but House Democratic leaders compromised in order to speed up the process of getting the bill through the Senate.

State-by-state: Unemployment claims in 5 states dropped more than 1,000 for the week ended Jan. 9, the most recent data available. Claims in Oregon fell the most, by 5,784.

A total of 30 states said the claims rose by more than 1,000. Claims in California jumped the most, by 16,160, which the state attributed to the return to a five day workweek and layoffs in the construction and service industries.

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