Filings for unemployment benefits inched higher last week, and the new five-and-a-half-year low in the previous report evaporated with a modest upward revision. As it turns out, claims for the week through July 27 only matched the previous low, established for the week through May 4, 2013. But don’t let this statistical shuffling divert you from the main takeaway: new claims continue to trend lower, which is a positive sign for the labor market and the economy.
Consider that the four-week average of claims last week dipped again, falling to a seasonally adjusted 335,000. That, by the way, is a new cyclical low for the four-week average—claims haven't navigated these levels on an average basis since January 2008.
More importantly, claims continue to fall on a year-over-year basis, a more reliable signal that minimizes short-term noise in search of the true trend. By that standard, the latest report brings another dose of good news. New filings last week dropped by more than 10% vs. the year-earlier level on an unadjusted basis. That’s a strong clue for arguing that the labor market continues to heal.
If and when claims start rising on an annual basis we’ll have a powerful reason to worry. For now, signs of distress continue to look minimal by way of this leading indicator. Lindsey Piegza, chief economist at Sterne Agee & Leach, sums it accurately when he tells Reuters: "The overall economy and the labor market are improving at a moderate pace." That’s the message across a range of indicators, and it remains the dominant theme in today’s jobless claims release.