The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits rose by 14,000 to a nine-week high of 344,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The increase was unexpected. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected claims to fall to a seasonally adjusted 320,000 in the seven days ended April 26. Claims jumped 25,000 to 330,000 in the prior week but analysts had thought some of the gain was due to the Easter holiday and would be reversed this week. The average of new claims over the past month rose by 3,000 to 320,000, the highest since the end of March.
As Labor Department reports on initial unemployment claims go, this is not good news.
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 340,000 in 14 of the last 17 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.