The bad news is initial unemployment claims, which were below 300,000 for most of the last six months, seem stuck around that threshold for now. The good news, the numbers are usually quirky right now, due to post-holiday shifts and poor weather.
The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits in mid-January fell by 10,000 but remained above the key 300,000 mark for the third straight week, the first time that’s happened since July. Initial jobless claims declined to 307,000 in the seven days ended Jan. 10 from a revised 317,000 in the prior week, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected claims to fall to a seasonally adjusted 298,000. […]The average of new claims over the past four weeks, meanwhile, rose by 6,500 to 306,500 and hit a six-month high. The four-week average smoothens out seasonal volatility in the weekly report and is seen as a more accurate predictor of labor-market trends.
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 300,000 in 16 of the last 19 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.