Jobless-claims data improves again

Last week’s report on initial unemployment claims was far less encouraging, but the general trend in an encouraging direction continued this week.

The number of Americans who filed requests for jobless benefits fell by 15,000 last week to 372,000, the U.S. Labor Department said Thursday. Claims from two weeks ago were revised up to 387,000 from 381,000. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had projected claims would drop to a seasonally adjusted 373,000 in the week ended Dec. 31.

The average of new claims over the past four weeks, meanwhile, declined by 3,250 to 373,250, the lowest level since June 2008.

That last part is of particular interest. Week-to-week numbers are obviously more volatile, but the average over the last month or so is the best we’ve seen in over three years.

In terms of metrics, keep in mind, when these jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold, it’s evidence of an improving jobs landscape. When the number drops below 370,000, it suggests jobs are actually being created rather quickly. We’ve now been below 400,000 in eight of the last nine weeks, and below 370,000 in two of the last four.

And with that, here’s the 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 spending money. By popular demand, I’ve also added an x-axis, marking the years reflected in the image.

Incidentally, keep in mind that the new monthly job totals will be released in 24 hours.