Initial Jobless Claims Drop 11% in Latest Week of Volatile Holiday Season

Initial jobless claims dropped 11.1% to 338,000 for the week ending Dec. 21, according to a Labor Department report released today. This latest report marks another week of holiday volatility, making week-to-week claims difficult to interpret. The Labor Department struggles to account for seasonal hiring by retailers and other businesses and for temporary layoffs of cafeteria workers and other employees at schools that close for the holidays.

After rising a revised 3% the previous week and 23% the week before , this newest report came in just below analyst expectations of 340,000 new claims. 

Source: Author, data from Labor Department. 

From a slightly more reliable long-term perspective, a 1.2% increase in the four-week moving average to 348,000 initial claims continues to signal a slow upward trend. Both the latest week's claims and the four-week average fall significantly below 400,000, a cutoff point that economists consider a sign of an improving labor market.

On a state-by-state basis, 14 states recorded a decrease of more than 1,000 initial claims for the week ending Dec. 14 (most recent available data). New York (-12,710) and Pennsylvania (-10,870) claims dropped the most, due partially to fewer construction and transportation layoffs.

For the same period, five states registered increases of more than 1,000 initial claims. California's claims had the largest jump (up 4,620), with services and retail layoffs packing the most unemployment punch.

The unemployment rate fell in November to a five-year low of 7%. Still, that remains above the 5% to 6% rate that would signal a normal job market. And long-term unemployment remains a big blot on the economy's performance: Nearly 4.1 million Americans have been unemployed for six months or more.

-- Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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