WASHINGTON (AFP) - New US jobless claims surged to 667,000 in the past week, the highest in over 26 years, data showed Thursday in a sign of ongoing labor market stress. The Labor Department said the number of initial claims for unemployment benefits in the week to Feb 21 rose from a revised 631,000 in the prior week that was the highest level since 1982. The four-week moving average was 639,500, an increase of 19,000 from the previous week's revised average. The data showed the insured unemployment rate was 3.8pc for the week ending February 14, an increase from 3.7pc a week earlier. That meant unemployment benefits were being paid to 5,112,000 people, an increase of 114,000 from the preceding week. "The news continues to be the same," analysts at Briefing.com said. "The overriding message remains that the labor market is weakening and that new jobs are difficult to find." The labor market, one of the best indicators of economic momentum, has been under pressure from the global economic crisis as firms slash workers amid a downward spiral. The report suggests more bad news for the monthly report on unemployment and US payrolls. The US economy lost 598,000 jobs in January, pushing the unemployment rate to a 16-year high of 7.6 percent. Meanwhile, US new home sales dropped 10.2pc in Jan from a month earlier to the lowest monthly level on record, the govt said Thursday. The Commerce Department said January sales of new one-family houses fell to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 309,000, the lowest since data collection began in 1963. The January figure is 10.2pc below the revised December rate of 344,000 and 48.2pc below the year-ago level, the department said. It was below the economists' consensus estimate of 324,000, but when factoring for the upward revision to the December number, the reported number ends up being roughly in line with expectations, analysts said. The median sales price of new houses sold in January plunged 13.5 percent from last year to 201,100 dollars, the lowest level since December 2003, the department said. At the January sales rate, there was a hefty 13.3 months worth of supply of new homes for sale, up from 12.2 months in December. "That suggests we will see a continued drop in prices," analysts at Briefing.com said. On Wednesday, US existing home sales fell 5.3 percent in January as potential buyers waited to see the impact of the government's economic stimulus package adopted recently. The US housing market collapsed after a mortgage crisis that climaxed last year, triggering financial turmoil across the globe. US Persident Barack Obama this month unveiled a housing rescue plan aimed at staving the rising flood of foreclosures, making mortgages more affordable and stabilizing the housing market. Obama is moving to spur a housing recovery to pull the world's largest economy out of a second year of recession.