But in a sign that laid-off workers are having trouble finding new employment, the number of people claiming jobless benefits for more than one week rose to 4.81 million from 4.78 million, the highest point since records began in 1967, the Labor Department reported Thursday.
Another 1.5 million people are receiving benefits under an extended unemployment compensation program approved by Congress last year, bringing the total number of recipients to 6.3 million, according to the Associated Press.
The 631,000 new jobless claims filed two weeks ago was the highest level since October 1982 when the economy was emerging from a deep recession. The labor force has grown by about half since then.
One year ago, initial jobless claims stood at 339,000.
Companies across sectors have been slashing jobs, and consumers have cut back their spending.
But the Commerce Department reported Thursday that retail sales rose 1 percent in January, exceeding expectations from surveyed Wall Street economists of a 0.8 percent drop.
The rise in sales followed a 2.7 percent drop in December, which marked the weakest holiday selling season since at least 1969, the AP reported.
The January report showed increases in the sales of automobiles and goods from “big box” outlets, though sales by department stores posted a decline.