For the fourth consecutive week, the figures on initial unemployment claims from the Department of Labor offered unexpectedly good news.
The number of people who applied for regular state unemployment-insurance benefits ticked down 4,000 to 323,000 in the week ending May 4, hitting the lowest level since January 2008, the U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected initial claims to rise slightly to 335,000 from an original estimate of 324,000 for the prior week, echoing softness in other recent labor-market data. Recent readings on initial claims signal little change in the pace of layoffs. The four-week average of new jobless claims fell 6,250 to 336,750, hitting the lowest level since November 2007, near the start of the recession.
The last time we saw jobless claims this low was mid-January 2008.
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. We've been below the 370,000 threshold 18 of the last 21 weeks, and below 350,000 in four of the last five 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.