By Daniel Wagner & Martin Crutsinger, AP Business Writers
WASHINGTON (AP) — Layoffs aren't slowing as fast as some analysts had expected.
That was the message Thursday in a government report that the number of people filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits rose unexpectedly last week. Jobless claims rose by 31,000 to a seasonally adjusted 473,000.
The increase followed a drop of 41,000 in the previous week. The earlier figure had raised hopes that the job market was improving steadily.
The four-week average for claims dipped 1,500 to 467,500, near the lows at the end of last year. The average smooths out week-to-week volatility. But many economists say the four-week average would need to fall consistently below 425,000 to signal that the economy is close to generating net job gains. The economy has lost 8.4 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007.
Further evidence that the pace of the economic recovery is slowing was a private research group's forecast of economic activity. The Conference Board's index of leading economic indicators rose for a 10th straight month in January, but the rate of increase is easing. The index is designed to forecast activity in the next three to six months.
Many economists have raised concern that growth will stagnate this year as government support programs wind down and unemployment remains high.
The key message from the leading indicators is that the recovery from the worst recession since the 1930s is plodding ahead — "stumbling at times, but it is moving forward," said Jennifer Lee, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets.
Analysts say the closing of businesses and government offices last week because of snowstorms might have prevented some newly unemployed workers from filing their initial claims for unemployment benefits.