Emergency Unemployment Expiration Dominates Jobless Data

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If initial claims for unemployment benefits defined the whole labor market story, then the narrative of the jobs recovery would be easy to summarize: Progress is steady. Data released by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics Thursday showed that even though jobless claims ticked up by 1,000 applications to 326,000 in the week ended January 11, jobless claims levels remained near a six-week low and fell below analyst expectations for 330,000 new applications.

The drop is further evidence of the resilience of the U.S. labor market and a sign that while job creation was not strong in December, business remain confident enough to keep workers this month, even if they were not inclined to increase payrolls last month.

It’s reassuring,” John Hancock Financial Services chief economist William Cheney told Bloomberg. “After the December jobs report everybody was pretty nervous. This is a number that makes it more likely December was a fluke.” Last week’s numbers also indicate that the volatile hiring and firing patterns that characterize the holidays and influence jobless claims numbers have come to an end. Jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs, are once again trending near the average pre-recession level of 300,000.

Earlier in January, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the U.S. economy had created a fewer-than-expected 74,000 jobs in the month of December, prompting some speculation that the growing momentum evidenced by the labor market in the previous two months was at an end.