Though last week's report on initial unemployment claims was a jolt of unexpectedly bad news, the new figures out this morning point in a more encouraging direction.
The number of people who applied for new unemployment benefits fell by 23,000 to 340,000 in the week ended May 18, the U.S. government said Thursday, keeping the level of initial claims in a range consistent with modest job growth. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expected claims to drop to a seasonally adjusted 343,000. The average of new claims over the past month, a more reliable gauge than the volatile weekly number, edged down by 500 to 339,500, the Labor Department said Thursday. That's just above a 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 20 of the last 23 weeks, and below 350,000 in five of the last seven 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.