The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits jumped by 14,000 to 348,000 last week to match a five-week high, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expected claims to total 335,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis. The average of new claims over the past month, a more reliable gauge than the volatile weekly number, was unchanged at 338,250.
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 370,000 in 19 of the last 20 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.