The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits in mid-March remained below the key 300,000 threshold that signals a much improved labor market. Initial jobless claims edged up by a scant 1,000 to 291,000 in the seven days from March 8 to March 14. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected claims to total a seasonally adjusted 290,000. The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, rose by 2,250 to a still-low 304,750, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average smooths out sharp fluctuations in the more volatile weekly report and is seen as a more accurate predictor 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. At this point, we’ve been below 300,000 in 21 of the last 27 weeks. On the other hand, we’ve been above 300,000 in 5 of the last 10 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.