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For the week ending Dec. 16, first-time jobless claims grew by 9,000 compared to the week before, according to a Labor Department report released on Dec. 21.

The number of newly laid off workers signing up for unemployment benefits was 315,000, up from 306,000 the week prior.

Despite the high numbers, many feel that the labor market is still strong. Weekly jobless claims averaged 312,000 so far in 2006, down from a weekly average of 332,000 for all of 2005.

The numbers were very close to what economists’ predicted last week.

However, others felt that the high number of jobless claims reflected a softening market.

Accompanying the weekly jobless claims report were economic figures from the Department of Commerce that showed that the U.S. economy grew at its slowest pace this year in the third quarter.

At 8,055 and 4,821 respectively, Illinois and Ohio experienced the largest jobless claim increases for the week ending Dec. 9, the most recent data available.

Ohio reported layoffs in the automobile sector, while Illinois saw layoffs in manufacturing, construction and service sectors.

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