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Unemployment benefits jump to 410,000

WASHINGTON (AP) — More people applied for unemployment benefits last week, one week after claims had fallen to the lowest level in nearly three years.

The big drop a week earlier had occurred largely because bad weather in many parts of the country had kept people from applying for benefits.

The Labor Department said Thursday that 410,000 people sought unemployment assistance last week, a jump of 25,000 from the previous week. The rise was much larger than economists had expected.

Applications are well below their peak of 651,000, reached in March 2009, when the economy was in the depths of the recession. Applications below 425,00 are viewed as a signal of modest job growth but they would need to dip consistently to 375,000 or below to indicate a significant and steady decline in the unemployment rate.

The big jump in benefit applications followed a week in which the applications had fallen to a revised 385,000, the lowest level since July 2008. That improvement had reflected severe winter weather in much of the country that forced the closing of government offices and prevented people from filing applications for benefits.

Economists had been looking for a rebound last week as a catch-up from the weather disruptions although the consensus view had been that claims would only rise to around 400,000.

The four-week average for benefit applications edged up to 417,750 last week, slightly above the two-year low of 411,250 reached in the week ending Jan. 1.

The unemployment rate fell to 9 percent in January after the fastest two-month drop in more than a half-century. Even with a 9 percent unemployment rate, close to 14 million people are out of work.

The Labor Department said that 3.91 million people were receiving regular unemployment benefits. That data is one week behind the figures for new applications. Another 4.5 million people out of work for a longer period are receiving extended unemployment benefits.

The latest data available shows that 9.25 million people were receiving various types of government unemployment support for the week ending Jan. 29.

An AP Economy Survey of top forecasters projects that employers will create a net total of 2.2 million jobs this year, up from 909,000 jobs created last year.

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