The number of newly laid-off workers filing for unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week, with New York State reporting the biggest increase in new claims, according to federal data released Thursday.

The increase reflects the continuing sluggish economy, but some experts cautioned that seasonal factors also may have contributed.

Nationwide, new claims for the week ended Jan. 9 rose by 11,000 from the week before to a seasonally adjusted 444,000, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Wall Street economists polled by Thomson Reuters expected an increase of only 3,000. Initial claims are considered a gauge of the pace of layoffs and an indication of companies' willingness to hire new workers.

New York State's initial unemployment claims jumped by 22,810 in the week ended Jan. 2 from the week before, to 48,787. State initial-claims data lag national data by a week.

The rise nationwide was partly a result of large seasonal layoffs in the retail, manufacturing and construction industries, a Labor Department analyst said, and many of the same factors are at play in the state job market. The second week of January usually sees the largest increase in claims during the year, the analyst said.

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A local economist agreed that seasonal factors could be at play here.

"The numbers can be volatile, and they generally have been moving in a positive direction," said Gary Huth, the state Labor Department's principal economist for Long Island. "This may be weather-related, but we certainly will keep an eye on it."

Local initial claims, which are released monthly, have shown a downward trend. November, the latest month available, showed claims of 7,900, down from 8,666 in November 2008, according to the state Labor Department.

Nationwide the numbers have also been trending down. The four-week initial-claims average dropped to 440,750, its 19th straight drop and lowest level since August 2008.

- With AP