Sharp improvement in unemployment claims

We generally look to the first Friday of every month for new unemployment figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but every Thursday morning, the Department of Labor releases a report on initial unemployment claims.

And this morning, the news is very good.

The number of people filing for state unemployment benefits for the first time fell 23,000 to the lowest level since late February, the government said Thursday.

The Labor Department said claims fell to a seasonally adjusted 381,000 last week. The level of initial claims in the week ended Nov. 26 was revised up by 2,000 to 404,000.

The consensus expectations were for a slight drop, which makes the sharp drop that much more encouraging.

As a general rule, national job creation is improving when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold.

And with that, I’m rolling out a new homemade 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.