The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits rose by 5,000 to 320,000 in the week ended March 15, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expected seasonally adjusted claims to climb to 325,000 from an unrevised 315,000 in the prior week. The average of new claims over the past month, a more reliable gauge, dropped by 3,500 to 327,000. That's the lowest level since the end of November.
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 350,000 in 12 of the last 13 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.