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Jobless claims hold steady for third straight week

For a while, the initial unemployment claims looked a bit like a roller-coaster ride. February and March were very encouraging, while April was a disheartening mess, only to see the data level off in May. Today's report from the Department of Labor reinforces the trend.

Last week's figures were revised up slightly, leaving this week's totals about where they've been.

The number of Americans who filed requests for jobless benefits fell by 2,000 last week to 370,000, the U.S. Labor Department said Thursday. Claims from two weeks ago were revised up to 372,000 from 370,000. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had projected claims would rise to a seasonally adjusted 373,000 in the week ended May 19. The average of new claims over the past four weeks, meanwhile, dropped by 5,500 to 370,000, the lowest level in six weeks.

It's worth emphasizing 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. We've only managed to dip below the 370,000 threshold once in the last seven weeks.

And with that, here's 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.