In a fresh example of the layoffs, tool maker Stanley Works said Thursday it plans to cut 2,000 jobs, or about 10 percent of its work force, and close three manufacturing facilities. The New Britain, Conn.-based company cited weakness in its construction and industrial segments and the effect of a stronger dollar for the reductions.
New jobless claims last week reached their highest level since November 1982, though the labor force has grown by about half since then.
The jump is partly due to a rebound in claims from the previous week, which included the Thanksgiving holiday, a Labor Department analyst said. Government offices were open for fewer days that week.
Still, the four-week average, which smooths out fluctuations, was a seasonally-adjusted 540,500, the highest since December 1982, when the economy was emerging from a steep recession.
The number of people continuing to claim jobless benefits also jumped much more than expected, increasing by 338,000 to 4.4 million, the Labor Department said. Economists expected a small increase to 4.1 million. The figure for continuing claims lags initial claims by one week.
As a proportion of the work force, the number of people continuing to receive benefits is the highest since August 1992, when the U.S. was recovering from a relatively mild recession. The increase in continuing claims was the largest jump since November 1974, the department said.
Economists consider jobless claims a timely, if volatile, indicator of the health of the labor markets and broader economy. Last year, initial claims were 337,000.
Also Thursday, the U.S. trade deficit rose unexpectedly in October as a spreading global recession dampened sales of U.S. products overseas and the volume of oil imports surged by a record amount, the Commerce Department said.
The trade deficit rose to $57.2 billion in October, from an imbalance of $56.6 billion in September. Analysts had been looking for the deficit to decline to $53.5 billion on lower oil prices.
While oil prices did drop by a record amount, that was offset by a record surge in the volume of oil imports.
The figures come a day after the Treasury Department reported a record budget deficit for November, driven by lower tax revenues and higher spending on programs such as unemployment insurance and food stamps.
In just the first two months of the budget year that started Oct. 1, the budget deficit totaled $401.6 billion, nearly matching the record gap of $455 billion posted for all of last year, the department said Wednesday.
Economists expect the deficit will top $1 trillion in the current budget year, which would be a post-World War II high when measured as a percentage of the economy.
The economy has been hit hard by the ongoing housing slump and financial crisis, which have sharply reduced household wealth as stock prices and home values have declined. Consumers and businesses have dramatically cut back their spending. The National Bureau of Economic Research said this month that the economy fell into a recession in December 2007.
The Labor Department said last week that employers cut a net total of 533,000 jobs in November and the unemployment rate reached 6.7 percent, a 15-year high. The rate would have been higher, except that more than 400,000 Americans gave up looking for a new job and weren't counted in the labor force.
Companies have eliminated a net total of 1.9 million jobs this year, and some economists project the total cuts could reach 3 million by the spring of 2010.
A number of large U.S. employers announced layoffs this week, including Dow Chemical Co., 3M Co., Anheuser-Busch InBev, National Public Radio and the National Football League.