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Jobless claims inch higher again

After quite a bit of volatility in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in November, the new report from the Department of Labor suggests initial unemployment claims have largely leveled off, at least for now.

New applications for U.S. unemployment benefits rose by 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 371,000 in the week ended Jan. 5, the Labor Department said Thursday. That's the highest rate in one month. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expected claims to total 365,000. Initial claims from two weeks ago were revised down to 367,000 from an original reading of 372,000. The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, climbed by 6,750 to 365,750.

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. We've been below 370,000 just five of the last eleven weeks, but perhaps more importantly, have been below the threshold four of the last five 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.