) -- Sure, signs of economic recovery may be bubbling here and there, but dismal unemployment figures will continue to weigh down any happy thoughts. Case in point: today's disappointing jobless benefits numbers.

According to a press release from the Labor Department, the number of first-timers seeking unemployment insurance grew to 558,000 last week. That marks a rise of 4,000 since the previous week's 554,000 revised figure. A cadre of analysts expected new jobless claims to fall to 545,000.

The four-week moving average figure for initial claims, which tends to iron out wild fluctuations, also swelled by 8,500 to come to 565,000.

Despite that, the number of people continuing on jobless benefit rolls for the week ending August 1 fell by 141,000 to 6.2 million.

For the week ending August 1st, California and Michigan saw the biggest drop-offs in initial claims due to slowing layoffs in the service and auto industries, respectively.

The news comes on the heels of last week's announcement that the unemployment rate dipped slightly to 9.4% from 9.5% the month prior. The report said


247,000 jobs were cut in July.

Still, the drop wasn't terribly informative since results also reflected that the swell of people who gave up looking for work outpaced those who actually lost jobs. The government's unemployment statistics only tallies those still looking for work in jobless figures. So, in a bit of statistical wizardry, a contracting labor force can actually be interpreted as a positive.

But a chorus of economists continues to believe that unemployment will top 10% by the end of the year.

Companies making recent job cut headlines include


(AEE) - Get Report



(CMCSA) - Get Report



(ALTR) - Get Report



( UAUA),

Verizon Communications

(VZ) - Get Report


General Electric

(GE) - Get Report


-- Reported by Sung Moss in New York

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