The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits in the first week of October was basically unchanged at 287,000, reflecting a labor market that's experiencing an exceedingly low rate of layoffs and probably will continue to do so for months. Initial claims have fallen below the key 300,000 level for four straight weeks, the first time that's happened since early 2006. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had expected claims to rise to a seasonally adjusted 294,000. The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, dropped by 7,250 to 287,750 and hit the lowest level since February 2006, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average reduces seasonal volatility in the weekly data and is seen as a more accurate barometer 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 330,000 in 27 of the last 30 weeks. (We've also been below 300,000 in 8 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.