After three consecutive weeks of discouraging news, today's report from the Department of Labor on initial unemployment claims pointed to a sharp improvement in the data.
Indeed, the new numbers not only reverse the discouraging trend, they're back to the level we saw in mid-March, which is near a four-year low.
The number of Americans who filed requests for jobless benefits fell last week for the first time in a month, down 27,000 to 365,000, the U.S. Labor Department said Thursday. Claims from two weeks ago were revised up to 392,000 from 388,000. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had projected claims would drop to a seasonally adjusted 378,000 in the week ended April 28. The average of new claims over the past four weeks, meanwhile, edged up by 750 to 383,500, the highest level since early December.
It's worth emphasizing that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it's best not to read too much significance into any one report. Still, it's generally heartening when the numbers are at least pointing in the right direction.
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 actually being created rather quickly.
And with that, here's the chart -- which reflects the revised, seasonably-adjusted data -- 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.