The bad news: the figure – 402,000 for the week ending March 22 – continues to cling to an ominously high level signaling that many Americans are still struggling to find work. The latest US Department of Labor (DoL) reading was down from a revised 427,000 the week before and was well below a forecast of 419,000 initial benefits claims from economists participating in Reuters’ weekly poll. It was also the lowest since the week ending February 8 when it stood at 381,000.
The closely watched four-week moving average for the March 22 week – a more reliable barometer of employment market trends because it smoothes short-term fluctuations – fell from 426,500 in the previous week to 422,500.
However, the dark cloud in the March 22 report was that the total was above the 400,000 watermark for the sixth straight week – the longest string of above-400,000 totals since August-September 2002. The 400,000 benchmark is generally considered a sign of a moribund job market.
DoL’s March 22 totals followed the report for March 15, which showed 421,000 people lining up for benefits – down, slightly from a revised 425,000 the prior week (See Jobless Claims Down But Market Still Floundering ).
Many executives have been loath to bring on new employees or commit to significant capital outlays because of continuing uncertainty over the Iraq war, economists say.