Mixed numbers on U.S. jobless

The number of laid-off workers filing claims for unemployment benefits showed an unexpected improvement last week although a key indicator of unemployment hit a four-year high.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that applications for unemployment benefits totaled 357,000 last week, some 18,000 fewer than the previous week. That pushed applications for benefits to their lowest level since mid-April.

However, the four-week average for people receiving benefits edged up to 3.086 million, the highest level since March 6, 2004, when the country was still struggling to recover from a prolonged period of rising unemployment.

The increase in so-called continuing claims underscored the problems people are facing with rising layoffs and the difficulty in finding new jobs in a weak economy.

The unemployment report for May will be released on Friday. Analysts are expecting that the overall civilian jobless rate will edge up to 5.1 percent, compared to 5 percent in April, and that businesses will have cut 60,000 jobs, marking the fifth straight month of job losses.

This prolonged stretch of job cuts has many economists believing the country has fallen into a recession.

However, the overall economy as measured by the gross domestic product has managed to remain in positive territory with the GDP growing at an annual rate of 0.9 percent in the first three months of the year.

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