NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — The number of jobless American workers receiving unemployment checks rose to the highest level since the government began keeping records in 1967. A Labor Department spokesman said the number of Americans drawing jobless benefits for a week or longer rose to 4,776,000 in the week ended Jan. 17, the latest data available. The number eclipses the prior mark set in November 1982, when 4,713,000 million Americans drew benefits. Americans who moved to collect their first unemployment checks rose for the third consecutive week, to 588,000, according to a government report released Thursday. The number of Americans filing for unemployment claims has surged by 61% from this time a year ago. The Labor Department said initial filings for state jobless benefits rose by 3,000 for the week ended Jan. 24 from a downwardly revised 585,000 claims filed the prior week. Economists polled by Briefing.com expected the reading to fall to 575,000 claims. Ian Shepherdson, an economist at High Frequency Economics, said that initial claims data are a proxy for the trends in gross firings. Mass firings hit a seven-year high in 2008. “The net result of this is soaring unemployment, and we see no chance of this picture changing in the foreseeable future. We expect net job losses of about three million through the first half of this year,” Shepherdson said. The four-week average of new unemployment claims, used to smooth fluctuations in data, grew by 24,250 to 542,500 from the prior week. A year ago, it was at 333,750. Over the previous four weeks, the number of people on unemployment for one week or more increased by 66,500 to an average of 4.63 million a week, the government said. A year ago, it was at 2.70 million.
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