It's pretty remarkable how the Department of Labor's reports on initial unemployment claims just keep getting better.
The number of people applying for new U.S. unemployment benefits fell by 10,000 to 332,000 in the week ended March 9, marking the second lowest level in five years and indicating that the labor market continues to improve. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had expected claims to rise to a seasonally adjusted 350,000 from a revised 342,000 in the prior week.
To put this in perspective, the 332,000 filings is the second best total we've seen in the United States since January 2008 -- just a few weeks after the start of the recession. This, along with the GDP projections, retail sales, manufacturing, housing, and Wall Street, reinforces the impression that the economy really is showing new signs of life (at least until Congress screws it up).
That said, 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 12 of the last 14 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.