The Labor Department reported that the number of Americans continuing to claim unemployment insurance for the week ending Jan. 17 was a seasonally adjusted 4.78 million, the highest on records dating back to 1967.
A department analyst said that as a proportion of the work force, the tally of unemployment recipients is the highest since August 1983.
The total released by the department doesn't include about 1.7 million people receiving benefits under an extended unemployment compensation program authorized by Congress last summer. That means the total number of recipients is actually closer to 6.5 million people.
Meanwhile, the tally of Americans filing new jobless benefit claims rose slightly to a seasonally adjusted 588,000 last week, from a downwardly revised figure of 585,000 the previous week.
That's close to the 26-year high of 589,000 reached in late December, though the labor force has grown by about half since then.
The Labor Department's report comes as large corporations from virtually all sectors of the economy are announcing massive layoffs.
Starbucks Corp. on Wednesday said it would cut 6,700 jobs. The coffee company also said it would close 300 underperforming stores, on top of 600 it already planned to shut down.
Time Warner Inc.'s AOL division is cutting up to 700 jobs, or about 10 percent of the online unit's work force. And IBM Corp. has cut thousands of jobs in its sales, software and hardware divisions in the past week, without announcing specific numbers.
Companies have announced more than 125,000 layoffs in January, according to an Associated Press tally.