Last week's news on initial unemployment claim was unexpectedly great, but there appears to be some volatility in the figures. Today, the new report from the Department of Labor is far less encouraging.
The number of people who applied for new unemployment benefits jumped 20,000 to 362,000 in the week ended Feb. 16, the U.S. government said Thursday, keeping claims at a level that suggests slow but steady improvement in the nation's labor market. The increase may have been partly influenced by a federal holiday on Monday -- full claims data for four states including California and Virginia were not completed on time and had to be estimated. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expected claims to rise to a seasonally adjusted 351,000.
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 nine of the last 11 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.