Unemployment up 61% from a year ago, jobless claims at record highest level since records have been kept starting in 1967

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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U.S. unemployment soars to 14-year high, over a million jobs lost in the past year.

Patrice Hill reported this in the Washington Times today: (Click here to read her article.)

“Unemployment soared last month to a 14-year high, the Labor Department reported Friday, prompting the head of the panel that officially dates U.S. economic cycles to say there is no doubt that a recession is under way.

Businesses slashed nearly a quarter-million jobs, pushing the unemployment rate to 6.5 percent, the department said. The losses were deep and widespread across nearly every industry from retailing and office work to construction and manufacturing.

Only the health care, education, mining and government sectors avoided the job slaughter and posted modest employment gains.

“The evidence [of a recession] is more than compelling,” Robert Hall, the Stanford University economist who heads the National Bureau of Economic Research’s business-cycle dating committee, told Bloomberg News. “It’s conclusive, in my personal opinion.”

The full committee of eight economists has not officially declared that America is in a recession, however.

The 240,000 jobs eliminated last month came on top of a revised 284,000 job cut in September — far more than originally reported. Together, the figures show how the economy virtually fell off a cliff at the onset of a severe credit crisis that cut off financing for consumers and businesses alike while it caused the failure of a major Wall Street firm and banks in quick succession.

Manufacturers laid off a stunning 90,000 workers, while construction employment fell by another 49,000 and retailers trimmed staff by 38,000.

“We’re in the teeth of recession,” said John Silvia, chief economist at Wachovia Securities. He said the job losses will weigh heavily on consumers, who already have pulled back dramatically from spending in the past two months. And they point to a big drop in the economy in the final quarter of the year.

Harm Bandholz, economist at Unicredit Markets, noted that the job losses in the past two months amount to more than a half-million and bring the job losses for the year so far to more than 1 million – clearly pointing to a profound recession.”