Recovery? What Recovery? Jobless Claims Jump, Prices Rise

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unemployment benefits The number of Americans filing for first-time unemployment benefits increased by 35,000, to 445,000 last week -- the biggest increase since October. Add the fact that the U.S. Department of Labor just reported big leaps in prices for things like gas, home heating oil, fruits and vegetables, and there are very few Americans who are not feeling the pain economicaly.

U.S. producer prices climbed 1.1 percent in December, as reflected in big gains in the costs of home heating oil (up 12.3 percent), fresh and dry vegetables (up 22.8 percent), and fresh fruits (up 15.4 percent). Optimists point out that inflation, excluding food and energy, rose just 0.2 percent, which is just below analyst estimates -- but whose budgets exclude food and energy?

According to the most recent statistics released from the Department of Labor, last week more Americans lost their jobs than expected. Analysts predicted only about 410,000 people would lose work -- as opposed to the 445,000 that actually lost their jobs. In addition, the number of those claiming state Emergency Unemployment Compensation has risen drastically, up to 3,773,092, an increase of 195,429 from the prior week.

The total number of people claiming unemployment benefits in all programs for the week ending Dec. 25, was 9,193,838. Keep in mind that that's just the number of unemployed people receiving help from the government. There are millions more jobless folks whose benefits have run out and who are not currently eligible for government assistance. Freelancers, minimum wage earners and the self-employed have been hit especially hard.

The largest increases in initial claims for the week ending Jan. 1 were in Georgia (+11,997), Michigan (+10,129), Pennsylvania (+9,004), New York (+8,379), and Wisconsin (+7,236), while the largest decreases were in California (-13,694), Florida (-1,867), Nevada (-972), Kansas (-841), and New Mexico (-721).

The states with the highest rates of citizens collecting unemployment insurance, for the last week in November were: in Alaska (7.5 percent), Oregon (5.2), Idaho (5.1), Montana (4.9), Wisconsin (4.8), Pennsylvania (4.7), Puerto Rico (4.6), Nevada (4.5), Illinois (4.4), and Michigan (4.3).

Location means a lot these days, as not all states extend unemployment benefits. States where they're still available include: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The latest numbers sort of cast a shadow over last week's good news that the unemployment rate has dropped from to 9.4 to 9.7 percent, proving that this recovery is going to be one long, slow haul.

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