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Jan. 22 (Bloomberg) -- The number of Americans filing first- time claims for unemployment benefits matched the highest level in 26 years as firings forced more workers to seek government assistance in a deepening recession.
Initial jobless claims increased by 62,000 to 589,000, more than forecast, in the week ended Jan. 17, from a revised 527,000 the prior week, a Labor Department report showed today in Washington.
Initial claims were estimated to rise to 543,000 from 524,000 initially reported for the prior week, according to the median projection of 40 economists in a Bloomberg News survey. Estimates ranged from 450,000 to 594,000.
Last week’s tally was the same as the total in the week of Dec. 20, which was the highest level since November 1982.
The four-week moving average of initial claims, a less volatile measure, held at 519,250.
The number of people on benefit rolls increased to 4.607 million in the week ended Jan. 10, from 4.510 million the prior week. The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits, which tends to track the jobless rate, held at 3.4 percent. These data are reported with a one-week lag.
Forty-four states and territories reported an increase in new claims for the week ended Jan. 10, while nine reported a decrease.
Initial jobless claims reflect weekly firings and tend to rise as job growth -- measured by the monthly non-farm payrolls report -- slows.
Economists predict the job-shedding extended into this year. The payrolls report showed a 12th consecutive monthly drop December, bringing total job losses in 2008 to 2.6 million, more than in any year since 1945. The unemployment rate climbed to 7.2 percent, the highest level in almost 16 years.