Jobless claims rise to highest level in 9 months - Yahoo! Finance Employers appear to be laying off workers again as the economic recovery weakens. The number of people applying for unemployment benefits reached the half-million mark last week for the first time since November. It was the third straight week that first-time jobless claims rose. The upward trend suggests the private sector may report a net loss of jobs in August for the first time this year. Initial claims rose by 12,000 last week to 500,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. Homebuilders and other construction firms are laying off more workers as the housing sector slumps after the expiration of a popular homebuyers' tax credit. State and local governments are also cutting jobs to close large budget gaps. In a healthy economy, jobless claims usually drop below 400,000. But the recent increases in claims provide further evidence that the economy has slowed and could slip back into a recession. Many analysts are worried that economic growth will ebb further in the second half of this year. After growing at a 3.7 percent annual rate in the first quarter, the economy's growth slowed to 2.4 percent in the April-to-June period. Some economists forecast it will drop to as low as 1.5 percent in the second half of this year. Commentary: The double dip is a direct result of the repairs attempted by the current adminstration.