New filings for jobless benefits declined a hefty 27,000 last week
to a seasonally adjusted 341,000—just over the five-year low of 330,000
for the week through January 19, 2013. This is a volatile series and so
it's best not to read too much into today's number. That said, the
latest drop is another data point in line with the trend in recent
history that reflects slow but persistent healing in the labor market.
The latest report shows that the four-week moving average for new
claims settled at just over the 350,000 mark last week. That's just a
hair over last month's five-year low of 351,750, which was set during
the week through January 19.
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The basic message is that jobless claims continue to trend lower. The
downward momentum has slowed recently, but that may be short-term
noise. Only time will tell. But for now, it's clear that claims continue
to drift lower. The year-over-year change for the unadjusted data is
still negative, which is a good sign. The pace of the decline was only
1.5% last week vs. the year-earlier level. But the annual change has
been known to bounce around quite a bit and so there's nothing unusual
about the latest figures in the context of a generally falling trend.
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One data series is always suspect for deciding the big picture for
the business cycle. But history suggests that when the economy is truly
deteriorating, new claims will start trending higher and begin posting
increasingly elevated levels on a year-over-year basis. For now, there's
still no sign of worry by that standard.
Could the claims numbers be misleading us? Yes, of course. That's
always a possibility, particularly for any lone data set. But
considering that most of the other key indicators from the economic and
financial trenches continue to post moderately positive signals, there's
a fair degree of confidence for thinking that the labor market is still
biased for slow growth in the near term.