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Jobless claims soar 89% in Manatee

Jobless claims in Manatee and Sarasota counties soared last month as the nation continues to reel from one of the deepest recessions in the nation’s history.

In Manatee County, there were 2,066 unemployment claims for January — an 88.8-percent increase over the 1,094 claims filed during that month a year ago, according to the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation.

Claims in Sarasota County jumped 72.6 percent during the same period, from 1,506 claims in January of 2008 to 2,599 last month. The agency was unable to provide current figures on the total number of people locally who are receiving benefits.

Nationally, the number of laid-off workers receiving unemployment benefits has jumped to an all-time high — nearly 5 million — while new jobless claims remain well above 600,000. Both figures were worse than expected, and new projections from the Federal Reserve show unemployment rising for the rest of this year.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that the number of people receiving regular unemployment benefits rose 170,000 to 4.99 million for the week ending Feb. 7, marking the fourth straight week those receiving benefits have been at a record level on data going back to 1967.

The continuing-claims figure also was significantly above the year-ago level of 2.77 million and underscored the difficulty people are having in this recession finding another job once they are laid off.

The Suncoast Workforce Board serving Manatee and Sarasota is overwhelmed with people seeking services to help them find jobs, spokeswoman Sally Hill said.

“We’re seeing a dramatic increase in the number of people who are receiving benefits and we know that because of the fact that we have orientations about the resources available through Jobs Etc. for finding employment,” Hill said. “We did hold those once a week, then we changed it to twice a week, and now we’re holding them Monday through Thursday, four days a week.”

At least 30 people attend each of the sessions, Hill said.

“It’s becoming more and more difficult for people to find employment because there seems to be fewer and fewer jobs available,” Hill said.

An additional 1.5 million people are receiving benefits under an extended unemployment compensation program approved by Congress last year, bringing the total number of people receiving unemployment benefits to 6.54 million for the week ending Feb. 7.

“The labor market is in disarray,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s It’s possible that job losses for all of February could total between 700,000 and 750,000 based on what weekly claims have done so far this month, he added.

Employers slashed a net total of 598,000 jobs in January, the most since 1974.

In other economic news, wholesale inflation surged unexpectedly in January, according to the Labor Department. Wholesale prices jumped 0.8 percent last month, the biggest gain since July and well above the 0.2 percent increase that economists expected.

The acceleration was led by a 3.7 percent surge in energy prices with gasoline prices jumping 15 percent, the biggest gain in 14 months.

Even outside the volatile food and energy sectors, wholesale prices showed a bigger-than-expected increase, rising by 0.4 percent.

The New York-based Conference Board said its January index of leading economic indicators rose 0.4 percent, the second straight monthly gain.

— Herald Staff Writer Brian Neill contributed to this report.