Job picture still grim; indicators offer hope

WASHINGTON — A sign that jobs likely will remain scarce through next year emerged Thursday in a report showing a record number of Americans receiving unemployment aid.

And plant shutdowns by Chrysler LLC and General Motors Corp. could further harm the economy in coming months. Economists are just starting to assess the full impact of the auto industry's woes, which affect thousands of suppliers and dealers.

The number of people who are continuing to receive jobless benefits rose to nearly 6.7 million from about 6.6 million, the Labor Department said. That's the highest total on records dating to 1967.

New jobless claims fell to a seasonally adjusted 631,000 last week, down from a revised figure of 643,000 the previous week. But many economists said even though the number of layoffs still are likely declining, they may not be doing so as fast as previously appeared.

Factory closings by Chrysler and GM, most of them temporary, probably will boost the number of jobless claims into the summer, economists said.

But the economic news was not all bad. In a separate report, a private research group forecast of economic activity rose more than expected in April. The Conference Board says its index of leading economic indicators rose 1 percent last month. Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters had expected a 0.8 percent increase in the index, which is designed to forecast economic activity in the next three to six months.

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