Jeannine Aversa
The Associated Press
January 2, 2009

The number of laid-off workers continuing to draw unemployment benefits bolted in late December to 4.5 million, and even more Americans are expected to join the ranks of the jobless in 2009.

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While first-time applications for jobless benefits dropped last week, economists mostly attributed that to the Christmas holiday and cautioned that a more accurate picture of new layoff filings will become clear in mid-January.

“It wasn’t a very merry Christmas for most of the labor force and it doesn’t look like it will be a very happy new year, either,” said Richard Yamarone, economist at Argus Research.

The Labor Department’s report showed that people continuing to draw unemployment benefits jumped by 140,000 to 4.5 million for the week ending Dec. 20, the most recent information available. The larger-than-expected increase underscored the difficulties of finding new jobs.

That left continued claims at their highest since early December 1982, when the country was emerging from a deep recession, though the labor force has grown by about half since then.

A year ago, the number of people continuing to draw jobless benefits was 2.7 million.

The report also showed that the number of newly laid-off workers filing first-time applications for jobless benefits dropped by a seasonally adjusted 94,000 to 492,000 for the week ending Dec. 27.

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