CNN Financial News Producer
New claims for jobless benefits fell last week - another sign that layoffs may be easing as the economy slowly recovers. This comes on the heels if two reports out Wednesday that showed the pace of job cuts continued to slow last month, and ahead of Friday’s all-important February employment report.
The Labor Dept. says that initial claims for unemployment insurance fell by 29,000 to a seasonally-adjusted 469,000 in the week ended Feb. 27.
In addition, the number of people continuing to claim jobless benefits fell by 134,000 to 4.5 million in the week ended Feb. 20, the most recent data available.
But continuing claims only reflect people filing each week after their initial claim until the end of their standard benefits, which usually last 26 weeks. The figures do not include those people who have moved to state or federal extensions, or people whose benefits have expired.
Nearly 5.9 million people were receiving extended benefits in the week ended Feb. 13, the latest data available, up from about 5.7 million the previous week.
More than 200,000 people would have stopped receiving checks from the government this week after lawmakers let the Feb. 28 deadline to apply for extended benefits lapse. But after days of fighting, the Senate finally agreed on Tuesday to push back the deadline until April 5, and President Obama signed the bill shortly after.
Jobs recovery will be sluggish
Speaking of job losses, the annual unemployment rate rose across all 50 states and the nation's capital last year, with Michigan and Nevada posting the biggest jumps.
According to Labor Dept., the average national unemployment rate spiked 3.5 percentage points to 9.3% in 2009, the biggest year-over-year jump since the department first began recording the data.
Michigan, which was pounded by the collapse of the auto industry, spiked 5.3 percentage points. It was also the state with the highest unemployment rate for the fourth consecutive year, at 13.6%.
Nevada's annual unemployment rate followed Michigan's with a 5.1-point rise to 11.8%, and jobless rates in seven additional states climbed by at least four percentage points.
Home sales contracts drop by nearly 8%
Fewer people signed contracts to buy homes in January and further declines are expected.
The National Association of Realtors says its Pending Home Sales Index dipped 7.6% in January. Economists surveyed by Briefing.com were expecting a 1% increase.
And even though pending sales were more than 12% higher than in January ‘09, this is still an indication that the housing market may not be recuperating as much as expected.
Although these are not closed sales, and some deals can fall through, signed contracts are a good indicator of where the housing market is headed.
Retire? Who can afford to retire?
More people say they just don't have the money to retire these days.
According to a survey by Careerbuilder.com, 72% of workers over the age of 60 who are putting off retirement are doing so because they can't afford it.
The results indicate more pessimism than in 2008, when about 60% of retirement-aged workers blamed the economy for delaying retirement.
Fear of retirement is highest among women. According to the survey, some 76% of women said they were not financially secure enough to stop working, compared to 68% of men.
And women have good reason to worry because they outlive men by 4 to 5 years on average, says Tom Warschauer, a finance professor and director of financial planning programs at San Diego State University.
Americans spent more in February
Finally, many of the nation's top retailers reported much stronger-than-expected February sales today, a sign that consumers are starting to loosen their purse strings.
Total sales jumped 4% last month, according to sales tracker Thomson Reuters, which looks at monthly same-store sales for 30 chains such as Costco, Target Gap and J.C. Penney. The firm had forecast a 2.9% gain for the month.
Same-store sales, or sales at stores open at least a year, are a key measure of a retailer's performance.
February marked the sixth month in a row that overall same-store sales increased and was the strongest gain since November 2007, when those sales rose 6%.
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