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Jobless claims climb, but remain low

Last week, initial unemployment claims reached a low unseen since before the start of the Great Recession, so no one was especially surprised to see them climb a bit in the newly released figures from the Department of Labor.

The number of people who applied for new U.S. unemployment benefits climbed by 13,000 to 336,000 in the week ended Aug. 17 but remained near a post-recession low, according to the latest government data. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expected claims to rise to 330,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis. The average of new claims over the past month, a more reliable gauge than the volatile weekly number, fell for the sixth straight week and touched the lowest level since November 2007, one month before the Great Recession started.

To reiterate the point I make every Thursday morning, it's worth remembering that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it's best not to read too much significance into any one report.

In terms of metrics, when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold, it's considered evidence of an improving jobs landscape, and when the number drops below 370,000, it suggests jobs are being created rather quickly. At this point, we've been below 350,000 in 15 of the last 20 weeks.

Above you'll find the 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.