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Jobless claims show unexpected improvement

As we get further from the volatility on initial unemployment claims around spring break and Easter, the figures from the Department of Labor continue to offer some good news.

The number of people who applied for new unemployment benefits last week fell by 16,000 to 339,000, marking the lowest level in a month and a half, but part of the decline likely reflected ongoing seasonal distortions that usually occur each year in the weeks following the Easter holiday and spring break.... Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expected claims to total a seasonally adjusted 351,000 in the week ended April 20.

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 the 370,000 threshold 17 of the last 20 weeks. Today's total is the best report since early March.

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.