Unemployment claims rise more than expected

The Federal Reserve also expressed concern over the continuing high rate of unemployment as policymakers confirmed they will continue with their $600-billion program to purchase government debt. 

Economic expansion in the U.S. is "continuing, though at a rate that has been insufficient to bring about a significant improvement in labor market conditions," the Federal Open Market Committee said Wednesday after its two-day meeting. 

Most estimates pegged the number of claims to rise only slightly to around 405,000, but despite plenty of talk from Congress and the White House about job creation, hiring is still slow to pick up so far. 

The four-week moving average, which smoothes the volatility of the weekly number, was 428,750, an increase of 15,750 from the previous week's revised average of 413,000.

Lawmakers have focused almost exclusively on cutting spending and deficit reduction in the first month of the 112th Congress. 

President Obama pressed for more innovation, research and development and clean energy jobs to prod along job creation in his State of the Union address on Tuesday. 

Lawmakers passed a comprehensive $858-billion package of tax breaks and unemployment benefits in December, which could help create confidence and lead to more job creation.

"These steps, taken by Democrats and Republicans, will grow the economy and add to the more than one million private- sector jobs created last year," Obama said in the address.

The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits increased by 94,000 in the week ended Jan. 15, to 3.99 million. 

Those who’ve used up their 26 weeks of state benefits and are collecting federal emergency and extended payments decreased by about 98,000, to 4.62 million, in the week ended Jan. 8.

Businesses have been saying they expect to accelerate their hiring as consumer demand and confidence improve, according to a National Association of Business Economists survey.

Economists say claims need to range between 300,000 and 400,000 for the job market to show a healthier trend.