Initial claims for jobless benefits rose by 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 472,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. It was the highest level in a month and overshadowed a report that showed consumer prices remain essentially flat.
The rise in jobless claims highlighted concerns about the economic rebound -- especially after a report earlier this week said home construction plunged in May after government tax credits expired.
If layoffs persist, there's a concern that the June employment numbers might show a decline in private-sector jobs after five consecutive months of gains, said Jennifer Lee, an economist with BMO Capital Markets.
"We've definitely seen the economic recovery hit a wall," Lee said.
First-time jobless claims have hovered near 450,000 since the beginning of the year after falling steadily in the second half of 2009. That has raised concerns that hiring is lackluster and could slow the recovery.
The four-week average for unemployment claims, which smooths volatility, dipped slightly to 463,500. That's down by 3,750 from the start of January.
Kevin Logan, an economist with HSBC Securities, said many economists have been expecting claims to fall below 450,000 for several weeks now.
"The wait is getting longer and longer," said Logan. "As each week goes by, doubts about the underlying strength of the economic expansion grow."
Economists have said they don't expect to see sustained job creation until first-time jobless claims drop below 425,000 per week.
The number of people continuing to claim benefits rose by 88,000 to 4.57 million.
That doesn't include about 5.2 million people who receive extended benefits paid for by the federal government.
Congress has added 73 weeks of extra benefits on top of the 26 weeks typically provided by states. All told, about 9.7 million people received unemployment insurance in the week ending May 29, the most recent data available.
The extended benefit program expired this month. The House has approved an extension of the benefits through November. The Senate has yet to act.