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) -- The number of Americans filing unemployment claims rose to its highest level since October last week, the Labor Department said early Thursday.

The advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims increased by 51,000 to 454,000 in the week ended Jan.22 after dropping to 403,000 in the previous week. Economists were expecting initial claims to rise to 410,000, according to consensus estimates from


The number of Americans filing continuing claims -- those who have been receiving unemployment insurance for at least a week -- came in higher than expected as well at 3.99 million for the week ended Jan.15, an increase of 94,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 3.89 million. Consensus estimates projected continuing claims to drop slightly to 3.83 million from 3.86 million reported the previous week.

The four-week moving average in initial claims, which smoothes the volatility in week-to-week reports, was 428,750, an increase of 15,750 from the previous week's revised average of 413,000. The four-week moving average in continuing claims was 3.97 million, a decrease of 39,750 from the preceding week's revised average of 4.015 million.

The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 3.2% for the week ending Jan.15, up by a tenth of a point from the previous week of 3.1%.

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Claims data tend to be erratic in the winter season as weather disrupts administrative activity.

Jobless claims had been on a downward trend over the past several months, as layoffs showed signs of slowing down.

-- Written by Shanthi Bharatwaj in New York

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