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Jobless claims surge
New weekly claims for unemployment benefits jump well above 400,000 in the latest week.
March 6, 2003: 9:13 AM EST

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - New weekly claims for jobless benefits in the United States surged last week, the government said Thursday, as the labor market continued to show signs of weakness in a sluggish economy.

The Labor Department said the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose to 430,000 in the week ended March 1 from a revised 418,000 the prior week. Economists, on average, expected 403,000 new claims, according to

Any number above 400,000 is generally considered to indicate a deteriorating labor market.

U.S. stock market futures moved slightly lower after the news, pointing to a negative opening on Wall Street. Treasury bond prices fell.

The report comes a day before the Labor Department is scheduled to report on February unemployment and payroll growth. Economists, on average, expect the jobless rate to rise to 5.8 percent from 5.7 percent in January and non-farm payrolls to grow by 20,000 jobs after adding 143,000 in January.

Private non-farm payrolls are 2.2 million jobs lower than they were in March 2001, when economists at the National Bureau of Economic Research say a recession began. After a brief recovery in mid-2002, the labor market has worsened in recent months.

Most of the trouble, many economists believe, has been concern about the possibility of the United States going to war with Iraq. According to this view, businesses will make long-term spending and hiring plans once that situation is resolved.

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Other economists, however, worry that businesses will not start hiring again until they see demand pick up significantly. Since there's little pent-up demand on the part of consumers, whose spending makes up more than two-thirds of the economy, it seems possible that the full economic recovery could take longer than most economists think.

In any event, most economists think it will be months before the labor market is growing significantly.

In the Labor Department's report Thursday, the four-week moving average of weekly jobless claims, which irons out the ups and downs of the volatile weekly data, rose to 408,750 from a revised 400,000 the prior week.

Continued claims, the number of people out of work for a week or more, rose to 3.52 million in the week ended Feb. 22, the latest data available, from 3.34 million in the prior week.  Top of page

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