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Jobless claims show steady improvement

After a couple of bumpy reports lately, the new data from the Labor Department shows initial unemployment claims headed in the right direction.

The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits inched down by 3,000 to 294,000 in the week that ended Dec. 6, hitting the lowest level in three weeks, as employers continued to lay off very few workers, according to government data released Thursday. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected initial claims to drop a hair to 296,000 from 297,000 in the prior week. The average of new claims for regular state unemployment-insurance benefits over the past month inched up 250 to 299,250, the U.S. Labor Department reported. Economists look at four-week averages to identify 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 13 of the last 14 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.