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Jobless claims fall unexpectedly

Number of initial unemployment filings declines to 631,000. Continuing claims hit fresh record.

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By Julianne Pepitone, CNNMoney.com contributing writer

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The number of initial claims for unemployment insurance fell last week, with the number of people collecting benefits overall hitting a fresh record high of 6.27 million, according to a government report released Thursday.

In the week ended April 25, there were 631,000 initial jobless claims filed, down 14,000 from a revised-up 645,000 the previous week, the Labor Department said.

Economists expected 640,000 new claims, according to a consensus survey by Briefing.com.

The 4-week moving average of initial claims was 637,250, down 10,750 from the previous week.

"The past few weeks' claims data are beginning to look increasingly like a peak," wrote Ian Shepherdson, economist at High Frequency Economics, in a research note.

But it remains unclear whether that peak was a correction from the quick rise in claims after Lehman Brothers failed in September, or if it marks "a real cyclical turning point," Shepherdson wrote.

"We are inclined to think the former is more likely ... Still, flat or falling claims have to be better than rising claims," he wrote.

Continuing claims record: In a sign that more people are having trouble finding work, 6,271,000 people continued filing for unemployment insurance in the week ended April 18, the most recent data available. That's a record high, and an increase of 133,000 from the previous week.

The 4-week moving average for continuing claims was was 6,076,000, an increase of 131,500 from the week prior.

A separate report released Wednesday showed the economy shrank at an annual pace of 6.1% in the first quarter, almost as much as it did in the fourth quarter of 2008.

Earlier this month, the government reported two million jobs were lost through March 2009, bringing the nation's unemployment rate to the 25-year high of 8.5%. The nation has lost 5.1 million jobs since the beginning of 2008.

State highs and lows: The largest increases for the week ended April 18, the most recent data available, were in California, with 8,535; New York, at 6,959; Connecticut, with 3,086; Georgia, at 3,056; and North Carolina, 2,983. Those spikes were likely due to layoffs in the service and manufacturing industries, among others, the report said.

By contrast, 14 states reported claims decreased by more than 1,000. Pennsylvania reported 7,799 fewer claims, which a state-supplied comment attributed to fewer layoffs in the construction, service and transportation industries. To top of page

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