For much of April, initial unemployment claims were getting a little ugly, reaching heights unseen in months, and raising concerns anew about the relative health of the job market. Today's report from the Department of Labor, following last week's good news, is more encouraging.
Though last week's figures were revised up a bit, the new numbers are still much lower than what we saw a month ago, and 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 by a scant 1,000 last week to 367,000, the U.S. Labor Department said Thursday. Claims from two weeks ago were revised up to 368,000 from 365,000. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had projected claims would total 365,000 on seasonally adjusted basis in the week ended May 5. The average of new claims over the past four weeks, meanwhile, dropped by 5,250 to 379,000.
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. After three consecutive weeks around 390,000 in April, we've now seen totals below 370,000 for two consecutive weeks.
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.