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Jobs, Housing Data Undermine Recovery Hopes

In March, the jobless rate hit 8.5 percent with businesses slashing a net total of 663,000 jobs.

The latest weekly report on jobless claims showed losses remain high. The four-week average of claims, which smooths out volatility, dropped slightly to 646,750, about 12,000 below the peak in early April. Goldman Sachs economists have said a decline of 30,000 to 40,000 in the four-week average is needed to signal a peak.

In another sign of labor market weakness, the number of people continuing to claim benefits rose to 6.13 million, setting a record for the 12th straight week. As a proportion of the work force, the total jobless benefit rolls are the highest since January 1983. The continuing claims data lag initial claims by a week.

The report from the National Association of Realtors showed that the median sales price for an existing home in March plunged to $175,200, from $200,100 a year earlier.

With unemployment rising and the mortgage crisis far from over, foreclosures and distressed sales are dominating the market ¿ especially in California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona. The Realtors group estimates about half of sales nationwide are from foreclosures or other distressed properties.

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