The number of people who applied for new unemployment benefits totaled fewer than 300,000 for the 10th straight week, reflecting the low level of layoffs in the U.S. economy as growth gradually picks up. Initial jobless claims fell by 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 291,000 in the week ended Nov. 15, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had expected claims to total around 280,000. [...] Over the past month, meanwhile, the average of new claims rose by 1,750 to 287,500. The four-week average reduces seasonal volatility in the weekly data and is seen as a more accurate barometer 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, and when the number drops below 370,000, it suggests jobs are being created rather quickly. At this point, we've been 300,000 in each of the last 10 weeks -- the first time we've seen that in the United States since the Clinton era.
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.