The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits in the last week of March rose by 16,000 to 326,000 to mark the highest level in a month, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expected claims to total a seasonally adjusted 320,000 in the week ended March 29. The average of new claims over the past month edged up by 250 to 319,500 but remained near a post-recession low. The monthly figure smooths out the jumpiness in the weekly data and offers a better look at the underlying trend.
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 11 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.