According to the Labor Department, initial jobless claims fell to 339,000 last week, a decline of 30,000 from the previous week.
That’s notable for several reasons. First, it’s the lowest weekly total since February 2008. It’s also a 16.3 percent decrease in initial jobless claims from the same week a year ago, and perhaps most importantly, it is lower than the long-term average of 363,460 jobless claims filed per week.
There are reasons to be cautious. One-week fluctuations are not long-term trends, and economists would be more reassured if numbers in the next few weeks continued this trend. But as the chart below clearly indicates, jobless filings peaked in March 2009 — two to three weeks after passage of the stimulus bill — and have been steadily declining ever since.
UPDATE: From CNN, another reason for caution:
Much of the drop last week was caused by an anomaly, a Labor Department analyst told CNNMoney. One state posted a large decline in claims, which is not typical during the last week in September.
The drop probably occurred because that state didn’t fully process end-of-quarter claims, the Labor Department analyst said. If that’s the case, it’s possible initial claims could shoot back up next week, once those claims are processed.
– Jay Bookman