Last week's initial unemployment claims were so extraordinarily good, it was widely assumed we'd see the new figures from the Department of Labor start to bounce back in the other direction. This morning, that's exactly what happened.
Applications for U.S. unemployment benefits jumped 46,000 to a seasonally adjusted 388,000 in the week of Oct. 7-13, the Labor Department said Thursday, erasing the sharp drop from the prior week. Claims had fallen two weeks ago to a four-year low, but the decline mainly stemmed from a statistical quirk in the data that often happens at the end of a quarter and it was not reflective of a rapidly improving labor market. Initial claims from two weeks ago were revised up to 342,000 from an original reading of 339,000, based on more complete data collected at the state level. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expected claims to rise to 365,000 in the most recent week. The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, edged up by 750 to 365,500.
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 now been below the 370,000 threshold 10 of the last 15 weeks.
And with that, here's 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.