Jobless Claims Down But Market Still Floundering

March 20, 2003 ( - The government's jobless claims totals fell for the second straight week, but remained higher than a key market benchmark and drove a closely watched job market barometer higher than it has been since May 2002.

According to the US Department of Labor, the number of Americans lining up for state unemployment benefits dipped slightly in the March 15 week to 421,000 from a revised 425,000 the prior week. Last week’s numbers were also down (See    Jobless Claims Break Upward Cycle; Drop 15,000 in Latest Report ). The latest tally was in line with predictions of 420,000 from economists participating in Reuters’ weekly survey.

Despite the drop, the latest report featured two causes for concern:

  • The latest report marks the fifth straight week that the DoL jobless totals stubbornly clung to a level above the key 400,000 mark. Economists consider numbers above that watermark a sign that the jobs market is still floundering.
  • The four-week moving average – a more reliable indicator of job trends – rose for the seventh consecutive report to 424,750 from a revised 421,000 in the previous week. That was the highest total since hitting 429,500 in the week of May 4, 2002. The average is considered a more accurate trend indicator because it smoothes out short-term volatility.