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Jobless claims soar

By Chavon Sutton, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The number of Americans filing for unemployment insurance for the first time jumped last week, according to government data released Thursday.

There were 460,000 initial jobless claims filed in the week ended April 3, up 18,000 from an upwardly revised 442,000 the previous week, according to the Labor Department's weekly report.

Economists surveyed by Briefing.com expected new claims to fall to 435,000 in the week. The number of new claims were just below the level reached in the Feb. 27 week, when initial claims totaled 466,000.

The Labor Department also tracks the 4-week moving average of initial claims, which smoothes out volatility in the measure. That number was 450,250 for the week, up 2,250 from the previous week's downwardly revised average of 448,000.

The data may have been clouded by factors that included the end of the first quarter and religious holidays, which made it difficult to get an accurate reading, according to a Labor Department official who asked not to be named.

The report also said that 4,550,000 people filed continuing claims in the week ended March 27, the most recent data available. That figure, the lowest level since Dec. 20, 2008, was down 131,000 from the preceding week's 4,681,000 claims, and below the 4.63 million economists expected, according to Briefing.com.

The 4-week moving average for continuing claims was 4,648,250, a decrease of 36,000 from the preceding week's revised average of 4,684,250.

Continuing claims data exclude people whose benefits expired or those who have moved to state or federal extensions. It reflects those filing each week after their initial claim until the end of their standard benefits, which usually last 26 weeks.

"The general trend in the jobs market is improving, reinforced by the decline in continuing claims," said Carl Riccadonna, senior U.S. economist for Deutsche Bank. "That's a good indication that the next move in the unemployment rate could be lower."

President Obama and lawmakers in the House and Senate in March pushed for more relief, by extending the deadline to file for unemployment insurance and instituting a number of tax breaks for businesses.

The goal of these measures has been to spark job growth and bring down the national unemployment rate, which hovers at 9.7%.

Jobless claims rose the most in Texas, with an increase of 3,640, primarily due to more layoffs in the finance, service, and manufacturing industries. Oregon and New Jersey rounded out the top three states with the largest increases in new claims.

Conversely, Michigan, Illinois and Oklahoma were the top three states with the largest declines in initial claims.

The report came after last week's much anticipated non-farm payrolls figures, which showed the U.S. economy added 162,000 jobs in March. Full-time positions unexpectedly outnumbered temporary Census-related jobs.

Still, initial claims will be top of mind for economists, as movement in the figure is likely to affect non-farm payrolls and the unemployment rate.

"If we see initial claims break lower than 400,000 for an extended period, that would be a good sign that we're going to see sustained triple-digit non-farm payroll gains," said Riccadonna.  To top of page

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