A slight breath of fresh air for the labor market, as first-time applications for state unemployment benefits eased 12,000 to a seasonally-adjusted 646,000 in the week ending March 14, the Labor Department said Thursday. Nonetheless, the total number of Americans on the benefits roll after drawing at least one week of aid mounted to a record 5.47 million, indicating that job openings are few and far between as companies continue to cut costs. “We’re going to see some ugly numbers for a number of months,” Julia Coronado, a senior economist at Barclays Capital Inc. in New York, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “March is going to be every bit as bad” for payroll losses as the declines in excess of 650,000 in the past three months, she said. The four week moving average of new jobless claims, which can sometimes smooth volatility, rose 3,750 to 654,750 -- the highest level in 26 years. The insured unemployment rate - the proportion of covered workers who are receiving benefits - rose by two-tenths of a percentage to 4.1 percent, also the highest in nearly 26 years The largest increases in initial claims were in Indiana -- where 5,603 people filed a claim in the week ending March 7 -- Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida and Michigan. The largest decreases were seen in New York -- where initial claims dropped by a whopping 11,218 -- Connecticut, Tennessee, California and Oregon. Write to Kelly Curran at kelly.curran@housingwire.com. Disclosure: The author held no relevant investment positions when this story was published. Indirect holdings may exist via mutual fund investments. HW reporters and writers follow a strict disclosure policy, the first in the mortgage trade