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New jobless claims fell more than expected for the second straight week, but the number of Americans continuing to receive unemployment insurance benefits rose above 6 million for the first time.


Analysts expect the labor market to remain weak for the most of this year, as many employers are reluctant to hire until an economic recovery is well under way. And fresh housing data show the slump in that market, a major factor in triggering the recession, is not yet over.

The Labor Department said Thursday that its tally of initial unemployment claims dropped to a seasonally adjusted 610,000 from a revised 663,000 the previous week. That was significantly below analysts' expectations of 655,000 and the lowest level since late January. The four-week average of claims, which smooths out volatility, fell 8,500 to 651,000.

Initial jobless claims reflect the pace of layoffs by companies and are considered a timely, if volatile, measure of the economy. While declining, they remain much higher than a year ago when claims stood at 369,000.



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