THURSDAY, APRIL 02, 2009
20:55 MECCA TIME, 17:55 GMT
Unemployment is rising as the US struggles with a recession [AFP]
The number of US workers filing new claims for unemployment benefits has surged to its highest level for more than 26 years, according to a government report.
Initial claims for unemployment insurance rose to 669,000 from 657,000 the previous week, the Labour Department said on Thursday, the highest number since October 1982.
The number of unemployed workers claiming benefits for more than a week rose 161,000 to reach 5.73 million, the report said.
A record 32.2 million people, one-in-10 Americans, are now receiving food stamps, the government also said on Thursday.
Food stamps are the major US government programme used to combat hunger and help the poor buy food.
The average benefit was $112.82 per person in January.
"A weakened economy means that many more individuals are turning to SNAP/Food Stamps," said the Food Research and Action Center, an anti-hunger group, using the acronym for the renamed food stamp programme, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The US economy is struggling in a recession that many say is the worst economic crisis since the 1930s.
Food stamp benefits are set to rise by 13 per cent this month temporarily, under the economic stimulus law signed by Barack Obama, the US president.
The increase equals $80 a month for a household of four.
The Commerce Department also said on Thursday that new orders received by US factories rose in February, ending a six-month series of declines.
Economists said the jobless data indicated the serious challenges that remain if the ailing US economy is to be revived.
"It would be an exaggeration to call this a firm rebuttal of the better (economic) data of recent weeks, but it is nonetheless quite striking," said Ian Shepherdson, the chief US economist at High Frequency Economics.
"Claims are typically one of the very first indicators to signal economic recovery and there is no sign of that in the data yet."