- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 19, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - Government data are expected to show that new jobless claims dipped last week but remained at elevated levels as companies laid off more workers.

The Labor Department’s tally of initial jobless benefit claims is forecast to drop slightly to a seasonally adjusted 652,000 from the previous week’s 654,000, according to a survey of Wall Street economists by Thomson Reuters.

The report is scheduled to be released Thursday at 8:30 a.m. EDT.

The labor market has been hammered as employers, squeezed by cutbacks in consumer and business spending, lay off workers at a rapid pace. Few economists expect the job market to improve anytime soon.

The unemployment rate reached 8.1 percent last month, the highest in more than 25 years. Many economists expect the rate could reach 10 percent by the end of this year.

Initial jobless claims rose to 670,000 three weeks ago, a new high for the current recession. That was also the most since October 1982 when the economy was emerging from a severe downturn, though the labor force has grown by half since then.

Economists also expect the number of people claiming jobless benefits for more than one week increased slightly to more than 5.33 million from nearly 5.32 million. If accurate, that would be the highest total since records began in 1967 and the seventh time in the past eight weeks that continuing claims set a new record.

That’s also up substantially from a year ago, when only about 2.8 million people were continuing to receive unemployment checks.

The increase in continuing claims is an indication that many newly laid-off workers are having difficulty finding jobs.

And even that number is deceptively low: an additional 1.4 million people were receiving benefits under an extended unemployment compensation program approved by Congress last year. That tally was as of Feb. 21, the latest data available.

More job losses were announced this week. On Tuesday, Caterpillar Inc. said it would lay off 2,400 workers as global demand for its mining and construction machines slumps. Mobile device maker Nokia Corp. said it would cut 1,700 jobs worldwide.

On Monday, oil producer Baker Hughes Inc. said it would eliminate 1,500 jobs, bringing its total recent cuts to 3,000. And industrial company United Technologies Corp., which makes Otis elevators and Sikorsky helicopters, said it would cut 2,000 to 3,000 jobs, on top of 11,600 layoffs it announced the last week.

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