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New jobless claims rise more than expected to 551,000

WASHINGTON — First-time claims for jobless benefits rose more than expected last week, a sign employers are reluctant to hire and the job market remains weak.

The Labor Department says initial claims for unemployment insurance rose to a seasonally adjusted 551,000 from 534,000 in the previous week. Wall Street economists expected an increase of 5,000, according to a survey by Thomson Reuters.

The increase comes after three weeks of declines. Weekly claims have been trending down since the spring, but the decline has been painfully slow. The four-week average, which smooths out fluctuations, dropped to 548,000, about 110,000 below its peak in early April.

The number of people remaining on the rolls fell 70,000 to 6.09 million, the lowest level since the week of April 4.

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