Jobless claims rise to highest level in 9 months

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New applications for unemployment insurance reached the half-million mark last week for the first time since November, a sign that employers are cutting jobs again as the recovery slows.

The Labor Department says initial claims for jobless benefits rose by 12,000 last week to 500,000, the fourth increase in the past five weeks. Wall Street economists forecast that claims would drop.

The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose by 8,000 to 482,500, the highest since December. A Labor Department analyst says there were no special factors that distorted the numbers.

Jobless claims declined steadily last year from a peak of 651,000 in March 2009. Employers reduced layoffs and began hiring. But after flattening out earlier this year claims have begun to grow again.