Political Animal


December 08, 2011 9:05 AM Sharp improvement in unemployment claims

By Steve Benen

We generally look to the first Friday of every month for new unemployment figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but every Thursday morning, the Department of Labor releases a report on initial unemployment claims.

And this morning, the news is very good.

The number of people filing for state unemployment benefits for the first time fell 23,000 to the lowest level since late February, the government said Thursday.

The Labor Department said claims fell to a seasonally adjusted 381,000 last week. The level of initial claims in the week ended Nov. 26 was revised up by 2,000 to 404,000.

The consensus expectations were for a slight drop, which makes the sharp drop that much more encouraging.

As a general rule, national job creation is improving when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold.

And with that, I’m rolling out a new homemade 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.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • Ronald Henry on December 08, 2011 9:31 AM:

    I wonder if the report takes into account all of the temporary holiday workers recently hired. If it does I suspect we'll see a sharp drop after the first of the year.

  • SW on December 08, 2011 9:37 AM:

    Historically, this level of first time unemployment claims was never any better during the entire first term of Ronald Reagan. Yet somehow, in our amnesia, Reagan's first term is seen as a success by the media, Republicans and people who are ignorant. Funny how that happened.

  • TG Chicago on December 08, 2011 9:44 AM:

    Shouldn't that chart have a label on the x-axis?

  • Russell_in_LA on December 08, 2011 9:57 AM:

    Ohhhhhhhh, me likey!

  • JD on December 08, 2011 10:05 AM:

    But Steve, everyone knows the stimulus didn't work. Thus saith the Conventional Wisdom that has been issued by the Wise Men of the Great Village (also known as the GOP and their media collaborators, which seemingly includes every news outlet).

    Your punishment for such heresy? No Georgetown cocktail parties for you!

  • SW on December 08, 2011 10:20 AM:

    Here is the data. Pay particular attention to the years between 1981 and 1985.


  • Tommybones on December 08, 2011 10:22 AM:

    I know I am wasting my time by pointing this out, yet again, but here goes...

    We all know a pillar of the GOP economic platform is replacing good public sector jobs with low pay/weak benefits private sector jobs. We also know the public sector is shrinking. Do we know if the rise in private sector jobs being celebrated here are of the low wage/weak benefit variety? If so, why are we celebrating this? And further, why would we credit Obama for what amounts to a regressive GOP victory?

    In other words, we don't have enough information to know whether this jobs report is good news or terrible news. It's a lazy, cynical and thoroughly superficial analysis.

  • Mitch McConnell on December 08, 2011 10:28 AM:

    Must. Work. Harder. To. Destroy. Economy.
    Must. Work. Harder. To. Destroy. Economy.
    Must. Work. Harder. To. Destroy. Economy.

  • Glidwrith on December 08, 2011 12:25 PM:

    Steve - I often use your charts for ammo; would you please label your axes Unemployment claims on the y-axis and weeks/months/years (whatever suits)on the x? Would you also put in an arrow where stimulus ended, since we've seen data showing that with its loss, jobs creation went right back down? Thanks!

  • Doug on December 08, 2011 8:51 PM:

    Tommybones, the only way to kick-start the economy and start producing lots of "high wage/strong benefits" jobs would be with another stimulus. A combination of infrastructure and "shovel-ready" projects woud probably be best, but THAT'S not going to happen with the Republicans in control of the House and blocking everything in the Senate.
    The important thing RIGHT NOW is to continue decreasing the number of unemployed by increasing the number of employed, even if some (many? most?) of those jobs are les than ideal. As most (full-time) jobs pay better than unemployment, ANY increase in employment means that more people have just that much more money available every week. And every drop in the unemployment rate improves the odds of the Democrats regaining the House and retaining the Senate and Presidency.
    Because if Republicans take control of DC, the present economic troubles will seem like the good ol' days...