The number of people who applied for unemployment benefits last week edged down by 3,000 to 336,000, indicating little change in the U.S. labor market. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had expected claims to drop to a seasonally adjusted 335,000 in the week ended Feb. 15. The average of new claims over the past month, a more reliable gauge than the volatile weekly number, rose by 1,750 to 338,500, the Labor Department said Thursday.
With some minor exceptions, initial unemployment claims have held pretty steady so far in 2014, and according to the new figures from the Labor Department, the trend is continuing.
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, despite the recent spike, we've been below 370,000 in 18 of the last 19 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.
Postscript: Speaking of jobless claims, my MSNBC colleague Suzy Khimm reports this morning on new economic research that suggests the Great Recession -- and Washington's inadequate response to it -- has done lasting damage the U.S. labor force, making it that much less likely unemployment claims will drop to pre-recession levels anytime soon.