In a Thanksgiving reprieve, weekly initial jobless claims trended sharply downward this week, approaching the territory you would need for decent job growth. 407,000 Americans filed first-time jobless claims last week, down 34,000 from the week before. This was well below expectations.
The four-week moving average, which is more stable, also decreased to around 436,000. This is the lowest number since August 2008, before the Lehman Brothers crash and the financial meltdown. After moving sideways for months, this trend is actually headed down, in the right direction.
However, several potential landmines are on the horizon. The stimulus package is running out of money, and so the government boost to demand will eventually dry up. What’s more, by next week, hundreds of thousands of unemployment beneficiaries will see their benefits run out if Congress doesn’t quickly extend benefits – and they aren’t going to do so, at least for a little while. Millions would be cut off by the end of the year if Congress does not act. Unemployment benefits are seen as very good stimulus, with $2 going back into the economy for every $1 spent. Without action, we’d essentially have a contraction of demand at the federal level at a time when we still need expansion.
So while this news is generally pretty good, it’s still a dangerous time for the US economy.