U.S. continuing unemployment claims near 5 million

Those dedicated statisticians at the U.S. Department of Labor, who gather data on employment from the sleepy corners of Kansas to the outer reaches of Oregon, and back to the city that never sleeps, would love to announce that initial jobless claims had hit an all-time low.

But, alas, they cannot -- not when the data indicate otherwise. And last week was yet another 'otherwise': initial jobless claims totaled 627,000 for the week ending February 14, the Labor Department announced Thursday, a level identical to last week's revised total.

However, even more troubling, continuing claims rose another 170,000 to 4.99 million Americans -- that metric's highest level since record-keeping for the statistic began in 1967, the Labor Department said.