Jobless Claims Unexpectedly Rise

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Another setback on the employment front, as jobless claims unexpectedly jumped for the second straight week, this time rising 22,000 to 496,000 for the week ending February 20, the U.S. Labor Department announced Thursday.

Economists surveyed by Bloomberg News had expected jobless claims to total 460,000.

Meanwhile, the four-week moving average increased 6,000 to 473,750, while continuing claims rose 6,000 to 4.617 million. A year ago, initial jobless claims totaled 656,000, the four-week moving average was at 632,500, and continuing claims totaled 5.065 million.

Economists view the four-week average as a better indicator of unemployment conditions, as it smooths out anomalies for strikes, holidays and other idiosyncratic events.

Economists also monitor the continuing claims stat because it provides a snapshot of how long it will take the typical person to find comparable employment once he or she has sustained a job loss. In general, continuing claims above 3 million reflect a slack labor market and point to extended job searches.

For the past two weeks, initial claims have moved in the wrong direction -- higher -- and if the pattern persists it's something that policy makers will have to address. Jobless claims had trended lower prior to the start of 2010, including a drop of 40,000 claims in one week, providing hope for policy makers and job seekers alike. However, a retrenchment in the past two months has increased worries about the employment situation. Investors will need to see the negative pattern reversed soon to eliminate concerns about a possible double-dip in the U.S. economy and a further rise in the already-high 9.7% unemployment rate.
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