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 yesterday’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.
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.