Sales of new homes decreased another 3.5 percent in October, falling to a level not seen since the last recession, the government said this week.

Sales totaled a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 491,000, the Department of Commerce and the Department of Housing and Urban Development said in a joint release.

That was the lowest since 480,000 new homes were sold in October 1982, a month before the 1981-82 recession ended.

The housing industry has been in a slump for about two years because of high interest rates and home prices and, more recently, consumers' fading confidence in the economy.

During the first 10 months of this year, new home sales were off 15.8 percent from the same period of 1989. Sales fell in eight of those 10 months, including a 4 percent drop in September and a 2 percent decline in August.

The September figure was revised from a 6 percent decline in the departments' initial estimate a month ago, while the August decline was revised from the 1.8 percent drop first reported.

At the October sales pace, it would take 8.4 months to exhaust the inventory of unsold homes, up from 8.3 months in September and eight months in August.

The effects of the sluggishness were seen in the Labor Department's employment report for October. It said 185,000 construction jobs have been lost in the last five months, including 80,000 in October alone.