updated 1 hour, 46 minutes ago
WASHINGTON - A surprising jump in first-time claims for unemployment aid sent a painful reminder Thursday that jobs remain scarce six months into the economic recovery.
The surge in last week's claims deflated hopes among some analysts that the economy would produce a net gain in jobs in January and help fuel the recovery.
A Labor Department analyst said much of the increase was due to holiday-season-related administrative backlogs at the state agencies that process the claims. Still, economists noted that that would mean claims in previous weeks had been artificially low. Those earlier declines had sparked optimism that layoffs were tapering and that employers would add a modest number of jobs in January.
The Labor Department report said the number of people continuing to claim regular benefits dropped slightly to just under 4.6 million. The continuing claims data lags behind initial claims by a week.
But the so-called continuing claims do not include millions of people who have used up the regular 26 weeks of benefits customarily provided by states and are now receiving extended benefits for up to 73 additional weeks, paid for by the federal government.
More than 5.9 million people received extended benefits in the week that ended Jan. 2, the latest period for which data are available. That's an increase of more than 600,000 from the previous week. The data for emergency benefits lags behind initial claims by two weeks.
Among the states, California saw the largest increase in claims, with 16,160. Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania and Georgia saw the next largest increases. The state data lags the initial claims data by a week.
Oregon saw the biggest drop in claims, of 5,784, followed by Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan and Massachusetts.