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Jobless claims tick up for Easter holiday week

WASHINGTON - The number of newly laid-off workers seeking unemployment benefits rose last week, a sign that jobs remain scarce even as the economy recovers.

The Labor Department said first-time claims increased by 18,000 to a seasonally adjusted 460,000. That's worse than economists' estimates of a drop to 435,000, according to a survey by Thomson Reuters.

The report covers the week that includes the Easter holiday, and a Labor Department analyst said seasonal adjustment for that week can be difficult since the Easter holiday occurs in different weeks each year.

The tally of people continuing to claim benefits for more than a week fell by 131,000 to 4.55 million, the lowest level since December 2008.

At the same time, retailers reported posting strong sales gains for March, pushed by Easter shopping.

Discounter Target Corp., department store Macy's Inc., clothier Gap Inc. and Victoria's Secret parent Limited Brands Inc. posted double-digit increases that beat Wall Street analysts' expectations.

Sales in stores open at least one year are an important measure of retailers' health.

"The consumer is really coming out of hibernation and feeling better about their situation," said Ken Perkins, president of RetailMetrics, a research firm.

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