This week's initial jobless claims report offered news of decent progress on the labor front, as claims fell 11,000 to 445,000, the U.S. Labor Department said. A Bloomberg survey had expected new claims to dip to 450,000. Last week's total was revised upward by 3,000 to a total of 456,000, but the latest number is the lowest since early July.
Another hopeful sign: The four-week moving average declined another 3,000 to 455,750. Economists emphasize this measure because it smooths out anomalies due to holidays, strikes and weather-related layoffs.
Continuing claims fell another 48,000 to 4.46 million -- their lowest level since December 2008. A year ago, initial claims totaled 531,000, the four-week moving average was 540,500 and continuing claims totaled 6.04 million.
All good, but weekly initial claims need to drop below 400,000 during the next two quarters to give economists and investors confidence that commercial activity is increasing at a pace that prompts most companies to curtail layoffs and resume hiring.
State-Level Claims Continue to Improve
One setback in the most recent jobless report was emergency claims. States reported 4.12 million people claiming Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) benefits for the week ending Sept. 18, the latest week for which data are available, an increase of 157,735 from the prior week. A year ago, 3.36 million people were claiming EUC benefits.
However, state-level claims showed more evidence of declining layoffs, as the pattern of "lower highs" for the states posting weekly increases in jobless claims continued. Only one state reported a large increase: California, whose claims rose 8,960. The remaining states/territories with increases had low numbers, with the top being Florida, up 687; Kentucky, up 415; Puerto Rico, up 302; and Iowa, up 299.
However, several states reported large decreases in jobless claims: New York, down 3,703 ; Illinois, down 2,381; Georgia, down 2,314, and North Carolina, down 2,078.
Online Job Listing Are Broadly Higher
Separately, the Monster (MWW) Employment Index rose two points to 138 in September -- its first rise in three months. The index, which measures employers' intentions to hire, is up 16% -- or 19 points -- compared to a year ago. That's an improvement from the 12% year-over-year rate registered in August.
Monster added that job listings increased in health care, social assistance, professional, scientific and technical services in September from August. It also said all 28 metro areas it tracks showed an increase in jobs posted online on a year-over-year basis.
This week's jobless claims report represents another small ray of light for the economy. As many economists forecast, after a rise boosted by seasonal layoffs, jobless claims are trending in the right direction -- down. It's just that they're still not going down fast enough.
The key task for policymakers now is to implement plans that will promote job growth. Business executives have to believe that the economic recovery will endure -- giving them the confidence to increase production and add jobs to meet that increased demand.