The four-week running average, which flattens volatility in the weekly numbers feel to 348,750. That's down 7,000 from the previous week's revised average of 355,750. That is the lowest level since March 2008, just four months after the Great Recession officially began.
In both federal and state programs, the total number of Americans claiming benefits for the week ending Feb. 16 was 5,401,893, down 362,275 from the previous week. Of that total, some 1.78 million are collecting federal emergency and extended benefits. For the comparable week in 2012, there were 7,387,649 persons claiming benefits in all programs. That decrease comes in part because people have found jobs and in part because they have exhausted their benefits.
The relatively low level of new claims has sparked optimism in some quarters:
“Every indication we have is that the labor market is beginning to pick up steam,” said Drew Matus, deputy U.S. chief economist at UBS Securities LLC in Stamford, Connecticut, who correctly projected the drop in claims. “It’s all consistent with 2013 being an okay year despite all the fears about what sequestration might mean or Europe might do.”The data announced today have no impact on the government's monthly job report being released Friday because the Bureau of Labor Statistics closed the books on those numbers Feb. 12.