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Jobless claims dip - remain at high level

Number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits falls to 623,000, while those living on benefits at record high.

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By Lara Moscrip, CNNMoney.com contributing writer

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The number of Americans filing for first-time unemployment benefits last week edged off a 26-year high, but was greater than expected, according to a government report released Thursday.

In addition, the number of workers receiving unemployment checks for one week or more spiked by 11,000 to reach a record high of 4.8 million for the week ending Jan. 31, the most recent data available.

The number of initial jobless claims fell by 8,000 to 623,000 in the week ended Feb. 7, according to the Labor Department.

That's down from the upwardly revised tally of 631,000 the previous week. The latest report ends a run of four straight weeks of rising jobless claims.

Economists polled by Briefing.com were expecting the number to fall to 610,000 for the most recent week.

Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist with High Frequency Economics in New York said his hopes that claims would fall by more than 8,000 were not met.

"The new data reinforces the impression that the underlying pace of layoffs is continuing to rise rapidly, setting the scene for even bigger declines in payrolls," Shepherdson wrote in a research note.

"The corporate bloodletting took a while to get started, but it is now in full swing and we have no confidence that the peak in claims is near," he added.

The four-week moving average for weekly claims, used to smooth fluctuations in the data, totaled 607,500, up 24,000 from the previous week's revised figure.

The four-week moving average for continuing claims was 4.7 million, an increase of 73,750 from the previous week.

Employers cut 598,000 jobs off of U.S. payrolls in January, taking the unemployment rate up to 7.6% and making it the worst month for job losses since December 1974.

Job losses have totaled 1.8 million in just the last three months, or half of the 3.6 million jobs that have been lost since the beginning of 2008.

The newly struck stimulus bill, if approved by the House and Senate, would provide some assistance to Americans living on unemployment checks. The bill provides jobless workers with an additional 20 weeks of unemployment benefits, plus 13 weeks more if they live in what's deemed a high-unemployment state.

In addition, the weekly unemployment benefit would temporarily increase by $25 on top of the roughly $300 that jobless workers currently receive. The first $2,400 of benefits in 2009 would be exempt from federal income taxes. To top of page

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