The U.S. government says that the number of workers making new claims for unemployment benefits jumped last week, largely because companies laid off employees they had hired to work during the holiday shopping season.
The Labor Department said Thursday that the number of jobless workers seeking first-time assistance increased by 24,000 to 399,000. That’s the highest figure in the last six weeks. For the last three months, the number of U.S. jobless workers making new claims for unemployment compensation had been steadily declining to the lowest level in three years. Businesses have slowly begun hiring more employees.
Last week’s number of new jobless benefit claims was higher than economists had predicted. But analysts said that the number of hirings and layoffs often fluctuates markedly during the December shopping season leading up to Christmas and into January.
About 4.1 million unemployed Americans collect jobless benefits every week, down from about 4.8 million a year ago as the country’s sluggish economy, the world’s largest, has regained some strength.
Meanwhile, the battered U.S. housing market looked a little better in 2011, although that may change soon.
A company that tracks foreclosures says owners of 1.8 million properties got notices they were in some stage of the foreclosure process in 2011. That is about one-third less than the number of properties facing foreclosure the prior year. RealtyTrac says the foreclosure rate in the United States was at the lowest level since 2007.
When homeowners fail to repay the loans used to buy their property, they get a series of notices of delinquency before the bank takes the property and sells it to recover the loan money.
That complex process was delayed after reports showed some lenders made serious errors in approving loans or in the process of repossessing properties.
RealtyTrac’s report says clearing up those problems delayed foreclosures in 2011, but predicts the number of homeowners going through the process will increase this year.