New applications for unemployment benefits fell by 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 366,000 in the week ended Feb. 2, but the small decline indicates there's been little change in a modestly improving U.S. labor market. Initial claims from two weeks ago were revised up to 371,00 from an original reading of 368,000, the Labor Department said Thursday, based on more complete data collected at the state level. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expected claims to drop to 360,000. The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, edged down by 2,250 to 350,500, marking a nearly five-year low.
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 seven of the last nine 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.