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Jobless claims improve amid volatile markets

When initial unemployment claims climbed in February, many hoped it was the result of seasonal and weather-related problems. Those assessments now appear right.

The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits fell by 9,000 to 282,000 in the seven days from March 15 to March 21, indicating that companies are holding onto their workers despite what appears to be a marked slowdown in first-quarter growth. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected initial claims -- a proxy for layoffs -- to total a seasonally adjusted 290,000. The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, dipped below the key 300,000 threshold for the first time since late February. The four-week average dropped by 7,750 to 297,000, the Labor Department said Thursday.

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. At this point, we’ve been below 300,000 in 22 of the last 28 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.