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More Americans filing for unemployment

By Annalyn Censky, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The number of Americans filing for first-time unemployment benefits rose by 2,000 in the latest week, pointing to continued weakness in the job market, the government reported Thursday.

The number of initial filings rose to 439,000 in the week ended Nov. 13, the Labor Department said. The number was slightly better than the 442,000 economists surveyed by Briefing.com had expected, but higher than the revised 437,000 initial claims filed the week before.

Overall, the weekly number has been treading water since last November, hovering in the mid to upper 400,000s and even ticking slightly above 500,000 in mid-August.

Economists often say the number needs to fall below 400,000, before the stubbornly high unemployment rate can start dropping significantly.

That said -- initial claims have stayed below the 440,000 level for three of the last four weeks, and that could be seen as a bright spot.

Jennifer Lee, senior economist with BMO Capital Markets, called the data "not that bad," and Zach Pandl, an economist with Nomura said the recent claims data have boosted his optimism about the job market.

Bruce Yandle, an economics professor at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University said the numbers could point to a temporary steady period, just before jobless claims start trending down more significantly.

"What we're looking at is a time where the economy is getting it's legs and moving positively in rebuilding employment," Yandle said.

The four-week moving average, calculated to smooth out volatility, totaled 443,000, down from the previous week's revised average of 447,000.

The number of people continuing to file unemployment claims for a second week or more fell to 4,295,000 during the week ended Nov. 6, the most recent data available. That's down 48,000 from a revised 4,343,000 the week before, and the first time since last year that the number has slipped below the 4.3 million mark.

Unemployment benefits are currently in the spotlight, as Congress considers extending the deadline for filing for federal jobless benefits. Without Congressional action before Nov. 30, 2 million people will run out of unemployment benefits next month.

Under a bill introduced in the House Wednesday, the unemployed would have three more months to file for extended jobless benefits. But getting the $12.5 billion bill through Congress, particularly the Senate, will not be easy.

Unemployed Americans have collected $319 billion in jobless benefits over the past three years, according to a CNNMoney analysis of federal records.  To top of page

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