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Published: Friday, 2/20/2009

Jobless totals surge; benefits claims reach all-time high

Job seekers stand in line at a job fair in midtown Manhattan. New jobless claims totaled a higher-than-expected 627,000 last week. Job seekers stand in line at a job fair in midtown Manhattan. New jobless claims totaled a higher-than-expected 627,000 last week.

WASHINGTON - February is shaping up to be another brutal month of job losses: The number of laid-off workers receiving unemployment benefits in the United States hit an all-time high of almost 5 million, and new jobless claims are at levels not seen since the 1980s.

The U.S. Labor Department reported yesterday the number of people receiving regular unemployment benefits rose by 170,000 to

4.99 million for the week ending Feb. 7, marking the fourth straight week continuing claims have hit a record.

The surge in joblessness has pushed those claims far above the 2.77 million people getting benefits in 2008. The number totals 6.54 million with the inclusion of 1.5 million more people who are getting extended benefits under a program passed by Congress last summer.

And those numbers are sure to climb higher, based on the flood of newly laid-off workers.

The government reported that new jobless claims for last week totaled 627,000, the same level as the previous week but higher than economists expected. It also was near the recent high of 631,000 hit three weeks ago, which was the most new weekly claims since 1982.

The three straight weeks of seasonally adjusted claims above 600,000 also is the longest stretch in more than 26 years.

"The labor market is in disarray," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Economy.com. "We are seeing job losses across nearly every industry and every region of the country."

In metro Toledo, new unemployment climbed and ongoing jobless benefits jumped more than 60 percent last week from the same week a year ago. In Ohio, new and ongoing claims almost doubled last week from a year ago, with 283,618 getting jobless benefits, state records show.

In the four-county Toledo area, 1,609 new claims were filed last week and 17,255 were collecting unemployment compensation, state records show. Almost 4,000 more people were collecting benefits in Lucas County last week than the same week a year ago.

Based on current trends, net job losses nationwide for February could well top 700,000, Mr. Zandi said. That would surpass the 598,000 jobs lost in January, which had been the biggest total since 1974.

Worries about the economy dragged the Dow Jones industrial average down almost 90 points to close at 7,465.95 yesterday. The Standard & Poor's 500 index and the technology-heavy Nasdaq composite index also fell.

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