Though initial unemployment claims were stuck at a discouraging level for much of January and February, the latest figures from the Labor Department suggest March is offering encouraging signs.
The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits fell by 9,000 to 315,000 in the week ended March 8, marking the lowest level since the end of November, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expected claims to total 330,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis. The average of new claims over the past month, a more reliable gauge than the volatile weekly number, declined by 6,250 to 330,500. That’s the lowest level since early December.
To reiterate the point I make every Thursday morning, it’s worth remembering that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it’s best not to read too much significance into any one report.
In terms of metrics, when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold, it’s considered evidence of an improving jobs landscape, and when the number drops below 370,000, it suggests jobs are being created rather quickly. At this point, we’ve been below 350,000 in 11 of the last 12 weeks.
Above you’ll find the chart showing weekly, initial unemployment claims going back to the beginning of 2007. (Remember, unlike the monthly jobs chart, a lower number is good news.) For context, I’ve added an arrow to show the point at which President Obama’s Recovery Act began spending money.