Explaining Southern California's economy

Jobless claims: A good week gets the US close to an important number

Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

Current and former military personnel stand in line for interviews. Unemployment claims fell a level not seen in four years.

The Labor Department has just released weekly data on first-time unemployment claims: The figure has fallen to 339,000, a four-year low and drop of 30,000 from last week. 

I usually don't write up the weekly claims numbers, but this time around, they're significant. There's some signal inside the noise. 

What you want to see is a first-time claims number that's below 400,000. Last week, we were well below that, and closing in on 300,000. That's a sign that employers have slowed the pace of layoffs. They may not be ready to hire again, but at least they aren't sending new ranks of unemployment to join the 12 million Americans who are currently out of work.

The regular weekly first-time claims number isn't as accurate as the four-week moving average, which this week shows first-time claims at 364,000. Even so, that's a number that we haven't seen since earlier this year.