Jobless benefits claims hit record


Published: Friday, January 30, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 7:24 p.m.

WASHINGTON - The number of people receiving unemployment benefits has reached the highest level on records that go back more than 40 years, the government said Thursday, and more layoffs are spreading throughout the economy.

The Labor Department reported that the number of Americans continuing to claim unemployment insurance for the week ending Jan. 17 was an adjusted 4.78 million, the highest since records started in 1967. That's an increase of 159,000 from the previous week and worse than economists' expectations of 4.65 million.

As a proportion of the work force, the tally of unemployment benefit recipients is the highest since August 1983, a department analyst said.

The total released by the department doesn't include about 1.7 million people receiving benefits under an extended unemployment compensation program authorized by Congress last summer. That means the total number of recipients is actually closer to 6.5 million people.

Businesses continued to hemorrhage jobs Thursday. Ford Motor Co. reported a fourth-quarter loss of $5.9 billion and said its credit arm would cut 20 percent of its work force, or 1,200 jobs. Eastman Kodak Co. said it's cutting 3,500 to 4,500 jobs, or 14 to 18 percent of its work force, as it posted a $137 million quarterly loss on plunging sales of photography products. Black & Decker Corp. said its fourth-quarter profit tumbled 77 percent and the power tools manufacturer announced about 1,200 job cuts.

More signs of the deepening recession came in separate government reports on home sales and durable goods.

The Commerce Department said Thursday that new home sales fell 14.7 percent in December to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 331,000, the lowest pace on records dating back to 1963. For 2008, builders sold 482,000 homes, the weakest results since 1982.

The median price of a new home sold last month was $206,500, a drop of 9.3 percent from a year ago. The median is the point where half the homes sold for more and half for less.

Meanwhile, new orders for durable goods dropped by 2.6 percent last month, even worse than the 2 percent decline economists expected. Orders fell 5.7 percent for the year, the second biggest drop on government records, exceeded only by a 10.7 percent plunge in 2001, according to the Commerce Department.

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