The latest weekly jobless-claims report indicates that, due to the economic slowdown, some workers are having a hard time finding jobs.
The Labor Department reported Thursday that initial applications for jobless benefits climbed by a bigger-than-expected 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 361,000 for the week ending Feb. 3. Many analysts were expecting claims to rise by only 4,000.
The weekly increase pushed claims to their highest level since Dec. 30, when claims stood at 380,000.
"The data indicate a slowdown. That is very clear," said economist Clifford Waldman of Waldman Associates. "Most of the claims are coming from manufacturing, with a smattering of services and construction. So far the slowdown has been a manufacturing phenomenon ,and nothing is indicating that the economy as a whole is
Last week, the government reported that the nation's unemployment rate jumped to 4.2 percent in January, the highest level in 16 months, as the sharp economic slowdown resulted in a loss of 65,000 manufacturing jobs.
With the economy losing steam, analysts expect the unemployment rate will continue to rise, possibly reaching 4.5 percent by summer, as demand for workers eases.
Some of the country's biggest names, from Sears to Office Depot, have announced thousands of layoffs as they shut unprofitable stores to cope with the slowdown. Last week DaimlerChrysler said it would lay off workers, joining other automakers who are trying to trim unsold inventories, which have piled up because of slumping demand.
"Claims are expected to remain on an upward trend as announced layoffs in December and January set a new two-month record," predicted Karen Dexter, economist with Merrill Lynch.
The Associated Press contributed to this report