After last week's extraordinary report on initial unemployment claims, this week's data was bound to be at least a little disappointing. But the fact remains that figures like these remain quite encouraging in the larger context.
The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits rose by 17,000 last week to 283,000, but initial claims remained below the key 300,000 level for the sixth straight week to reflect the low level of layoffs taking place in the economy. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected claims to rise to a seasonally adjusted 285,000 in the week ended Oct. 18.
The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, fell by 3,000 to 281,000 to mark the lowest level in 14 years, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average reduces seasonal volatility in the weekly data and is seen as providing a more accurate snapshot 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 300,000 in 10 of the last 20 weeks.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) knows the value of a strong closing message. The incumbent senator is in the midst of the toughest race of his lengthy career -- polls show him clinging to a tiny lead over Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) -- and with very little time remaining, McConnell wants to sprint to the finish line with his strongest message.
And yet, for some reason, the longtime lawmaker has chosen to emphasize women's issues in his final pitch.
Team McConnell unveiled this new ad late yesterday, featuring four women speaking to the camera. For those who can't watch clips online, here's the script:
First woman: Alison Lundergan Grimes wants me to think that I'm not good enough.
Second woman: That I couldn't get a job, unless Washington passed more laws.
Third woman: That I can't graduate college, without raising your taxes.
Fourth woman: She wants me to believe that strong women and strong values are incompatible.
Third woman: She thinks I'll vote for the candidate who looks like me.
First woman: Rather than the one who represents me.
After they say they're voting for McConnell, the first woman says "he believes in me."
This is the sort of ad a politician runs if he's convinced voters just aren't very bright.
Part of the problem, of course, is that McConnell is a poor messenger for a weak message. He is, after all, the same senator who opposed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay, voted repeatedly to kill the Violence Against Women Act, rejected the Paycheck Fairness Act, and voted to restrict contraception access. Closing the campaign with a discussion about women's issues seems like an odd choice.
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