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Searching, Finding Clues to the Economy

During the Olympics, people were Googling Michael Phelps. When the presidential campaign kicked into high gear, the buzz was all about Sarah Palin.

Is it any wonder then that online metrics firm comScore today reported triple-digit increases in search terms like "coupons", "bankruptcy", and "unemployment"?

There's good reason for the spike in unemployment-related searches. Earlier this month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the national unemployment rate hit 7.6 percent in January, up from 7.2 percent the previous month for a loss of 598,000 jobs.

The Bureau reported that, over the past 12 months, the economy had shed 4.1 million jobs, while the unemployment rate has swelled by 2.7 percentage points. The next jobs report is due out March 6.

By comScore's reckoning, the term "unemployment benefits" saw the biggest percentage increase in search interest, with queries in December up 247 percent from the same month a year earlier.

Over the same time spread, searches for the term "unemployment" increased 206 percent, queries for "coupons" increased 161 percent and searches for "bankruptcy" were up 156 percent. "Foreclosure" saw a slightly more moderate increase in search activity, with queries up 67 percent.

ComScore also parsed searches for "unemployment" by age group, income level and search engine.

The term garnered the most interest among younger users with lower incomes.

Of the five major search engines, Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Live Search fielded the highest proportion of queries for "unemployment." As the runaway leader in overall search, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) handled the most queries by volume, though it was the lowest of the five by proportion.

The results reflect the national consciousness right now, said comScore Chairman Gian Fulgoni in a statement. "Search volume using terms relating to the economy has ballooned over the past year as Americans have become increasingly concerned over their economic wellbeing."