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Jobless claims jump to 589,000

Thursday’s tally was well above Wall Street economists’ expectations of 540,000.

WASHINGTON — The number of new unemployment claims jumped more than expected last week, as companies continue to cut jobs at a furious pace and more Americans turn to an extended benefits program.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that initial jobless benefit claims rose to a seasonally adjusted 589,000 in the week ending Jan. 17, from an upwardly revised figure of 527,000 the previous week. The latest tally was well above Wall Street economists’ expectations of 540,000 new claims.

The total matches a 26-year high reached four weeks ago. The last time claims were higher was in November 1982, when the economy was emerging from a steep recession, though the work force has grown by about half since then.

The increase is partly due to a backlog of claims that piled up in recent weeks in several states that experienced computer crashes due to a crush of applications, a Labor Department analyst said. The four-week average of claims, which smooths out fluctuations, was 519,250, the same as the previous week.

But the layoffs continued Thursday. Microsoft Corp. said it will cut up to 5,000 jobs over the next 18 months as profit tumbles amid weakness in the personal computer market, and chemical maker Huntsman Corp. will slash 1,175 jobs this year, representing more than 9 percent of its work force.

Huntsman also plans to cut an additional 490 contractors.

First-time jobless claims dipped over the holidays after reaching 589,000 in the week ending Dec. 20. Most economists attributed the decline to unusual seasonal factors, such as below-average holiday hiring by retailers due to the recession. That meant fewer workers were laid off afterward.

Another sign of the deepening recession came in a Commerce Department report that showed new home construction plunged 15.5 percent to a record low last month.

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