Political Animal


January 19, 2012 8:40 AM Jobless claims reach a four-year low

By Steve Benen

The general trend on initial unemployment claims over the last two months has been largely encouraging, though there have been setbacks. Last week, for example, was a step in the wrong direction.

This week’s report, however, was a very pleasant surprise. Initial claims not only dropped sharply, they fell to a level unseen in nearly four years.

The number of Americans who filed requests for jobless benefits sank by 52,000 last week to 352,000, the lowest level since April 2008, the U.S. Labor Department said Thursday. Claims from two weeks ago were revised up to 402,000 from 399,000. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had projected claims would fall to a seasonally adjusted 375,000 in the week ended Jan. 14. The average of new claims over the past four weeks, meanwhile, dropped by a much smaller 3,500 to 379,000.

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.

And with that, here’s the 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 spending money.

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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  • just bill on January 19, 2012 8:54 AM:

    oh noooooo! in spite of every effort by the republicans, it looks like the economy may actually be coming back to life! what ever are they going to do now?

  • jon on January 19, 2012 8:58 AM:

    Obama's failure to continue the job-deficit policies of the Bush Administration has resulted in abject failure for his desired goal of becoming the Food Stamp President. And everyone knows that 700,000 is much better than 350,000.

  • Ron Byers on January 19, 2012 9:04 AM:

    Now if we could just confince some of our friends in the press that the stimulus plan worked, not as fast as we might have wanted, but it worked.

  • K in VA on January 19, 2012 9:06 AM:

    Last week's rise in applications was to be anticipated -- however prosperous or weak the holiday sales season, there are always layoffs of seasonal workers in early January

  • SadOldVet on January 19, 2012 9:34 AM:

    It is still a shame that our Capitulator-In-Chief yielded to co-presidents Snowe and Collins on the stimulus package and did not get anywhere near the recovery that would have been possible.

  • Danny on January 19, 2012 9:42 AM:


    Preach it brother! If we only replace that POS Capitulator-In-Chief in the "White" House with a true working class hero like the Mittster, I'm sure those prescient warnings of Jane Hamsher and Jonah Goldberg will surely be heeded.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on January 19, 2012 9:54 AM:

    Good to see that George W. Bush's economic policy is starting to take effect!

  • lockewasright on January 19, 2012 11:01 AM:

    @ SadOldVet

    Yeah! Then we could have had a bill fall 2 votes short of getting any stimulus at all and had ourselves a good time reliving the great depression!

  • JDReign on January 19, 2012 11:06 AM:

    Please quit it with the "yeah he found the cure for cancer but what about common cold" style cynicism, Its really tired

  • Barbara on January 19, 2012 1:07 PM:

    A President Romney could show us how to get a little money to the Cayman Islands. Leave him alone!

  • Anonymous on January 19, 2012 2:34 PM:

    I don't know much about how they calculate this figure, but couldn't it just be that the long-term unemployed have maxed out on their benefits (therefore they are unable to apply) and others being laid off are being laid off from part-time work or a job that they've only been in for less than a year (again making them ineligible to even apply)?

    The unemployed rate doesn't seem to have dropped off that much... and the underemployed rate is largely unknown/not talked about.

  • lockewasright on January 19, 2012 4:55 PM:

    @ Anonymous Some of it is that people have maxed out their benefits, but not much. The president has been pretty successful at extending the benefits. More convincingly, employers are also reporting that they have added about 200,000 to their payrolls in the last month. It's real job growth.

  • bp on January 20, 2012 9:29 AM:

    I believe this number is for initial claims of unemployment and not those people already getting unemployment or maxing out their current benefits.