639K New Jobless Claims; Continuing Claims At 5.1M

WASHINGTON — The number of new jobless claims and the total number of people receiving unemployment benefits both dropped unexpectedly last week, though they remain at elevated levels.

The Labor Department says the tally of initial requests for unemployment benefits fell to 639,000 from the previous week’s figure of 670,000. Analysts expected a smaller drop to 650,000.

The number of people claiming benefits for more than a week fell slightly to 5.1 million from 5.12 million, after rising to record-highs for five straight weeks. Analysts expected 5.15 million continuing claims.

The four-week average of new claims, which smooths out fluctuations, increased 2,000 to 641,750, the highest since October 1982, though the labor force has grown by half since then.