NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - New weekly claims for jobless benefits in the United States rose last week, the government said Thursday, as the labor market continued to show signs of weakness in an environment of economic uncertainty.
The Labor Department said the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose to 417,000 in the week ended Feb. 22 from a revised 406,000 the prior week.
Many economists think any number of claims over 400,000 indicates a labor market that is worsening. Economists, on average, expected 390,000 new claims last week, according to Briefing.com.
Many economists expected the number of new claims to drop, thinking bad weather in the eastern part of the country would keep people away from the unemployment office. Apparently people will go to a lot of trouble for an unemployment check.
"There's no question that these numbers have been persistently disappointing in recent weeks," said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics Ltd. "It's not that layoffs are accelerating again -- we think the underlying trend [of claims] is stable at about 390,000 -- it is that we expected clearer signs of an outright decline [in the number of claims]."
Separately, the Commerce Department said orders for durable manufactured goods, items meant to last three years or more, rose 3.3 percent in January after falling 0.4 percent in December. Economists, on average, expected orders to rise 1.0 percent.
U.S. stock prices rose in midday trading, partially on the strength of the durable goods report, while Treasury bond prices were mixed.
Though a recession that began in March 2001 likely ended sometime around the end of 2001, Americans have had a hard time finding jobs ever since.
Businesses have a host of reasons not to hire people, including large amounts of debt, an overhang of unused production capacity, higher prices for oil and other commodities, and an inability to pass those prices on to consumers.
What's more, concerns about a U.S.-led war in Iraq and the possible outcome of such a conflict have given companies even more reason to stay on the sidelines.
As a result, there are about 1.6 million fewer people on non-farm payrolls than in March 2001, and the unemployment rate has been stuck between 5.7 percent and 6.0 percent since December 2001.
In the Labor Department's report Friday, the four-week moving average of jobless claims, which irons out fluctuations in the volatile weekly data, rose to 399,750 from a revised 395,750 the prior week.
Continued claims, the number of people drawing benefits for more than a week, fell to 3.38 million in the week ended Feb. 15, the latest data available, from a revised 3.42 million the prior week.