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Record number of Americans on unemployment

Continuing jobless claims spike to 5.3 million. Weekly jobless claims rise to 654,000.

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By Julianne Pepitone, CNNMoney.com contributing writer

In the past six months, how often have you looked at your 401(k) and other investment balances?
  • Every day
  • Once a week
  • Every month or so
  • I can't bear to look

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The number of Americans filing initial claims for unemployment insurance rose last week, with the number of people collecting benefits overall rising to a record 5.3 million, according to a government report released Thursday.

In the week ended March 7, 654,000 Americans filed initial jobless claims, up from a revised 645,000 the previous week.

Economists expected 644,000 new claims, according to a consensus survey by Briefing.com. The 4-week moving average for weekly filings was 650,000, up 6,750 from the previous week's revised average.

"We think claims are still nowhere near their peak, which could well be close to a million," said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist with High Frequency Economics, in a research note.

The steady increase suggests that the rate of decline is likely to accelerate, Shepherdson said.

Continuing claims: In a sign that more jobless Americans are having trouble finding work, 5,317,000 continued filing for unemployment insurance in the week ended Feb. 28. That's an increase of 193,000 from the revised number from the previous week.

It was the highest level since record-keeping began in 1967. Continuing claims have set a new record for six out of the last seven weeks. The 4-week moving average was 5,139,750, an increase of 124,250.

Initial claims spiked to a 26-year high two weeks ago, reaching 670,000 for the week ended Feb. 21.

The insured unemployment rate is 4%, up 0.2 percentage point from the previous week's unrevised rate.

Highs and lows: Initial claims rose by more than 1,000 in 12 states in the week ended Feb. 28, the most recent state-by-state data available.

The largest increases were in New York, with 16,481; California, at 7,765; Oregon, at 4,001; Georgia, with 3,313; and Wisconsin, 3,006. Those spikes were likely due to layoffs in the construction, trade and manufacturing industries, among others, the report said.

By contrast, five states - Missouri, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Florida, and New Mexico - saw claims decrease by more than 1,000.

Stimulus: The stimulus bill that President Obama signed into law has several provisions that help those living on unemployment benefits.

The weekly unemployment benefit has temporarily increased by $25 on top in addition to the about $300 jobless workers currently receive now. Also, the first $2,400 of benefits in 2009 will be exempt from federal income taxes.  To top of page

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