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US Sees Hope in Housing as Jobless Claims Rise

A real estate industry group says the U.S. housing market appears headed for a recovery.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) said Thursday sales of previously owned homes jumped faster than expected in June, rising 3.6 percent.

The group says it is the third month in a row that sales have increased, with the rate of homes sales now at its highest level since October.

Many economists say the collapse of the U.S. housing market helped trigger the financial crisis. But the latest U.S. government report on unemployment is doing little to ease concerns.

The U.S. Labor Department says the number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits last week rose by 30,000 to 554,000. At the same time, the total number of workers continuing to file jobless claims fell to about 6.2 million, the lowest it has been since April.

Officials caution the numbers are likely distorted for the second week in a row because of the recent layoffs at two of the three top U.S. auto companies.

Employers in the United States have cut 6.5 million jobs since the recession began in December of 2007 and the country's unemployment rate recently hit a 26-year-high of 9.5 percent.

White House Budget Director Peter Orszag said Wednesday officials expect the unemployment rate "to remain stubbornly high" even when the economy improves. And Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told lawmakers Wednesday the country's rising unemployment rate remains the biggest threat to the economy.

The head of the U.S. central bank also warned that American consumers will likely be changing their shopping habits - buying fewer products, including those imported from other countries - and cannot be expected to pay for a global economic recovery.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.