The number of people who applied for unemployment benefits last week rose slightly to 302,000, but layoffs remain low and initial claims continue to hover near an eight-year bottom. Initial claims increased by 4,000 in the period of Aug. 24 to Aug. 30 from an unrevised 298,000 in the prior week, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expected claims to rise to 300,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis. The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, edged up by 3,000 to 302,750. The monthly average is less erratic than the weekly figure and offers a better look at underlying trends in the labor market.
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 330,000 in 23 of the last 26 weeks. (We've also been below 300,000 in four of the last seven 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.