Jobless claims fell unexpectedly last week to 361,000. Analysts were particularly heartened by the improvement because the latest figures were finally “clean” of recent seasonal adjustment quirks related to auto factory shutdowns. That’s the good news.
U.S. non-farm payrolls have come in below the Reuters Poll consensus for the past four months, the longest streak since an eight-month period in 2008-09 when the U.S. was in the depths of recession and, at one point, losing more than half a million jobs a month.
Weekly data on applications for unemployment benefits have gained renewed importance since a weak March payrolls number left economists wondering whether a tentative labor market recovery was about to cave again. The last two weeks’ readings were just soft enough to leave investors thinking the country’s unemployment crisis may not be healing very quickly.
Economists seems to be having a difficult time sorting through the recent downward trend in jobless claims. On the surface, the news looks good. Benefit applications, which have been trending lower from a 26-year peak of 674k in March, fell to a nine-month low of 521k this week. Continuing claims also eased, and are now hovering just above 6 million.