Government figures released Thursday showed that the number of people filing for first-time unemployment benefits ticked up last week, though they remain off levels reached a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, the size of the government's unemployment roll climbed to a new record high.

The U.S. Labor Department announced that initial jobless claims rose to 652,000 for the week ended March 21st, compared to the previous week's level of 644,000. Analysts had expected the figure to come in at a level of 650,000.

With the figure hovering around 650,000, the data have shown some signs of stabilizing, but authorities remain concerned that the number remains near the highs for the recession, posted a few weeks ago.

Another source of concern is continuing unemployment claims. The number of people continuing to collect unemployment benefits ballooned to 5.560 million in the most recent data, compared to the previous mark of 5.438 million. The figure has been seen as an indication of the continued difficulty of people to find work again once they are laid off.

The four-week moving average for initial claims, a statistic that strips out week-to-week fluctuations in the data, showed a slight decline for the week, indicting some stabilization after a long trend of higher claims.

The measure slipped to 649,000 versus an average of 650,000 posted in the previous week. The figure dipped in part due to downward revisions in unemployment figures reported in previous weeks.

In another economic report issued Thursday, the Commerce Department released its final revision Gross Domestic Product for the fourth quarter.

The release showed that the economic contraction in the last three months of last year was more pronounced than people had previously thought. However, economists had come to fear an even sharper decline, and the revised GDP figure came in above expectations.

The report showed that GDP fell by a revised 6.3 percent in the fourth quarter compared to the preliminary estimate of a 6.2 percent decrease. Economists had been expecting GDP to be revised to show a somewhat steeper 6.6 percent contraction.

Next week, the government will release its monthly employment report, considered by many to be the most important set of economic statistics. Economists expect yet another dismal month, with payrolls projected to fall by more than 650,000 once again.

In February, the economy lost 651,000 jobs, but there was hope at the time that this figure would soon begin to moderate, as the economy works through the recession and as the massive government stimulus begins to take effect.

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