Unemployment Claims Drop Slightly

The number of initial unemployment claims has been falling steadily for about a month now, but the job market remains stubbornly weak.

It's beginning to look like another Jobless Recovery, with a booming stock market, big Wall Street bonuses, and high unemployment.

Even Treasury Sec. Tim Geithner is complaining about the "deeply unfair" gap between the good times in the financial sector and hard times practically everywhere else -- and that includes a flat housing market threatened by even more home loan foreclosures.

Initial unemployment claims fell to a seasonally-adjusted 439,000 for the week ending March 20. That's a decrease of 6,000 from the revised rate for the week before, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The count of initial claims can jump wildly from week to week. But the four-week moving average, which evens out some of the volatility in the number of initial claims, also fell to 447,250, down from 454,000 the week before.
The weekly count of new unemployed people has been falling steadily for more about a year - dropping from highs of over 600,000-a-week last spring. The rate has wavered in the high 400,000s since the beginning of the year.

Some economists and pundits say that if the seasonally-adjusted rate of new claims can stay at about 425,000, that would represent sustained job creation. It would be nice if that were true, but this pronouncement seems a little like grade inflation. Remember economic history: The rate of claims hovered close to a seasonally-adjusted 425,000 a week for most of the summer of 2003 and dropped even lower that fall.

At the time, pundits and economists called it the "Jobless Recovery." We journalists didn't stop writing stories about the horrible job market until much later - after the weekly rate of initial claims had fallen into the 300,000 range.

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