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Jobless claims fall - remain high

The number of people filing first-time unemployment claims slips to 554,000, the Labor Department says.

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By Kenneth Musante, CNNMoney.com staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The number of Americans filing for first-time unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, according to a government report released Thursday. However the ranks of the jobless continued to swell.

The Labor Department said that initial filings for state jobless benefits fell to 554,000 for the week ended Dec. 13. That was a decline of 21,000 from the 26-year high of a revised 575,000 claims a week earlier.

A week ago, the government reported the highest number of jobless claims since Nov. 27, 1982 when initial filings hit 612,000.

Economists were expecting jobless claims slip to 558,000, according to a poll by Briefing.com.

But the reduction in filers "really was not enough to offset the significant gain we saw after the Thanksgiving holiday," said Andrew Gledhill, economist with Moody's Economy.com.

Over the past four weeks, new unemployment claims have risen to an average of 543,750 a week, up 2,750 from the moving average of 541,000 reported last week.

The number of people continuing to collect unemployment declined to 4.38 million in the week ended Dec. 6, the most recent data available. The measure was a decrease of 47,000 from the preceding week's revised level of 4.31 million

Over the previous four weeks the number of people on unemployment averaged 4.23 million a week, the government said.

The rash of unemployment claims shows no sign of slackening, according to Gledhill, and may hit the retail sector particularly hard as consumers reign in spending.

"Consumers are going to continue to find ways to cut spending any way they can," he said.

The number of new jobless claims rose the most in Tennessee, rising by 12,170 due to layoffs in the manufacturing industry, the Labor Department said.

Wisconsin saw jobless claims fall the most, by 8,593, due to fewer layoffs in the construction, manufacturing and service industries. To top of page

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