Lucia Mutikani
January 22, 2009

The number of workers lining up for jobless benefits surged last week, while new housing starts and permits hit record lows in December, pointing at an acceleration in the economy’s downward spiral.

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First time applications for state unemployment insurance benefits increased to a seasonally adjusted 589,000 in the week ended January 17 from a revised 527,000 the prior week, the Labor Department said on Thursday.

It was the highest level of initial claims since a matching reading in the week of December 20 and beat analysts’ forecasts for a rise to 540,000 new claims versus a previously reported count of 524,000 the week before.

The last time claims were higher was in 1982, when they notched a weekly rise of 612,000.

“The jobs outlook has not improved since the fourth quarter,” said Christopher Low, chief economist at FTN Financial in New York.

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