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The Labor Department reported Thursday that the number of newly jobless workers seeking benefits rose last week to a seasonally adjusted 626,000, from the previous week’s upwardly revised figure of 591,000. The latest total is far more than analysts’ expectations of 583,000.

That’s also the highest since October 1982, when the economy was in a steep recession, though the work force has grown by about half since then.

The numbers reflect the large spate of layoffs announced last month by companies from all sectors of the economy, including Caterpillar Inc., Pfizer Inc. and Microsoft Corp.

Economists expect the government to issue a grim report Friday that will show the unemployment rate rose to 7.5 percent in January, up from 7.2 percent in December. That would be the highest rate in 17 years.

The housing slump and financial crisis have hammered spending by businesses and consumers, sending the economy into a recession that is expected to continue until at least the second half of this year.

The recession’s impact was visible in other economic data Thursday. Factory orders fell by 3.9 percent in December, the Commerce Department said, a record fifth straight drop.

For all of 2008, orders for everything from autos to computers to food rose by only 0.4 percent, the weakest showing since orders actually fell by 1.8 percent in 2002. 




SAN FRANCISCO — Freddie Mac said Thursday that its benchmark mortgage rate average rose on better-than-expected economic reports. The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 5.25% with an average 0.8 point for the week ending Feb. 5, up from last week when it averaged 5.1%. Last year, the average was 5.67%. “Interest rates for fixed-rate mortgages rose this week amid economic reports that were somewhat better than consensus forecasts had anticipated,” said Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac chief economist, in a statement. “The economy slowed by 3.8% in the fourth quarter of 2008, less than the market consensus, with inflationary pressures held at bay. Meanwhile, personal incomes fell by only half as much as some market forecasters predicted.”