NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The number of first-time filers for unemployment insurance rose to the highest level since late February last week, according to a weekly government report released Thursday.
There were 484,000 initial jobless claims filed in the week ended Aug. 7, up 2,000 from an upwardly revised 482,000 the previous week, according to the Labor Department's weekly report.
That's the highest number since the week ended Feb. 20, when 486,000 people filed for first-time benefits.
Economists surveyed by Briefing.com had expected new claims to fall to 465,000.
Initial claims have been stuck in the the mid- to upper- 400,000s since November.
"It's just more of the same," said John Canally, an economist with LPL Financial. "This data doesn't break out of the range, and that's going to continue until companies can see their way to adding some jobs."
Canally points to the latest productivity numbers released in a separate report on Tuesday that show companies may have stretched their employees too thin. The Labor Department said worker productivity fell 0.9% in the second quarter, the first decline in 18 months.
That data may mean employers need to start hiring again. But instead, companies have been spending on new equipment and capital - rather than their payrolls - as they remain skeptical of the economic outlook, he said.
"Companies have the cash. Their profits are good. They have credit if they need it. They just haven't been willing to step up new hiring," Canally said.
Continuing claims: The government said 4,452,000 people continued to file unemployment claims for their second week or more, during the week ended July 31, the most recent data available.
That's down from an upwardly revised 4,570,000 the week before.
Standard unemployment benefits usually last 26 weeks, and the continued claims number does not include those who have moved into state or federal extensions, or people whose benefits have expired but may still be without a job.
Meanwhile, the four-week moving average for weekly initial claims was 473,500, up from 459,250 the previous week.
The Labor Department tracks the four-week moving average of the weekly figures to smooth out the volatility of the measure.
The national unemployment rate currently stands at 9.5%.
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