NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - New jobless claims in the United States rose last week, the government said Thursday, climbing even higher above a benchmark reading that points to a weak labor market.
The Labor Department said the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose to 455,000 in the week ended April 19 from a revised 447,000 the prior week. Economists, on average, expected 425,000 new claims, according to a Reuters poll.
U.S. stock market futures traded lower after the report, pointing to a negative opening on Wall Street. Treasury bond prices were mixed.
Private non-farm payrolls are 2.6 million jobs lower than they were in March 2001, when economists at the National Bureau of Economic Research say a recession began. After a brief recovery in mid-2002, the labor market has worsened in recent months.
Most economists have said for months that the economy's biggest problem was the U.S.-led war with Iraq. According to this view, businesses would make long-term spending and hiring plans when the war was over.
However, with the war essentially over, jobless claims rose to their highest level since 486,000 in the week ended March 30, 2002.
A minority of economists have worried that businesses will not start hiring again until they see demand pick up significantly. Since there's little pent-up demand on the part of consumers, whose spending makes up more than two-thirds of the economy, it seems possible that the full economic recovery could take longer than most economists think.
In any event, most economists expect it will be months before the labor market begins growing significantly.
In the Labor Department's report Thursday, the four-week moving average of weekly jobless claims, which irons out the ups and downs of the volatile weekly data, rose to 439,250 -- the highest level since 449,000 in the week ended April 20, 2002 -- from a revised 426,000 the prior week.
Continued claims, the number of people out of work for a week or more, rose to 3.59 million in the week ended April 12, the latest data available, from a revised 3.55 million the prior week.