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Jobless claims remain at four-year low

The general trend on initial unemployment claims over the last few months has been largely encouraging, despite occasional setbacks, including one last week.

Today's report, however, was far more heartening. Initial jobless claims reached a four-year low a month ago, and returned to that level this week, beating expectations.

The number of Americans who filed requests for jobless benefits fell by 14,000 last week to 351,000, matching a four-year low, the U.S. Labor Department said Thursday. Claims from two weeks ago were revised up to 365,000 from 362,000. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had projected claims would fall to a seasonally adjusted 355,000 in the week ended March 10. The average of new claims over the past four weeks, meanwhile, was unchanged at 355,750.

In terms of metrics, keep in mind, when these jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold, it's considered 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 dropped below 370,000 for six consecutive weeks, and seven of the last nine 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.