20090109 unemployment 18
A job seeker looks through job listings at the East Bay Works One-Stop Career Center on Jan. 9, 2009, in Oakland, Calif. The unemployment rate in the U.S. surged to 7.2% in December, reaching its highest level in 16 years. - 

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: The number of people filing for first time unemployment benefits fell last week, by 17,000. That's the second drop in the Labor Department report, in 3 weeks.

Marketplace's David Gura is with us live from Washington to help us hash out what all this data means. Good morning David.

DAVID GURA: Hey Steve.

CHIOTAKIS: These numbers are the second lowest of the year. How excited should we be by that?

GURA: Of course any bright spot on the job's front is good news. Economists has expected more people to file for unemployment benefits for the first time. So that's hopeful. But keep in mind we need to add 100,000 new jobs a month just to keep up with population growth. Just to keep things stable. The four week average of new jobless claims is considered a more accurate measure. And it also fell to the lowest level since before the heart of the economic crisis.

CHIOTAKIS: Yeah, that's the four week moving average. David, you know, this is a weekly jobless report that sometimes has a lot of ups and downs. Is there a reason where paying so much attention to it?

GURA: Because the economy still isn't in great shape, and there's this hunger for indicators -- for any indication really of where we're headed. I talked to Heidi Shierholz. She's with the Economic Policy Institute.

HEIDI SHIERHOLZ: Because the situation is at such a crisis level right now, everyone seems to be just hanging on each these releases as they come out.

She says that's probably not a good thing. These numbers still fluctuate, live we've been talking about. And they'll probably continue to jump around a lot.

CHIOTAKIS: That said, is there anything we can draw from these numbers? What's the take away from all this?

GURA: For one thing, these indicators usually aren't that solid during the holiday season. They're pretty volitile -- so that's something to keep in mind. Heidi Shieholz told me there isn't just a lot of interest in these numbers. There is a lot of pressure for them to improve. What we saw today, combined with what we have been seeing, on average, over the last couple of weeks, gives us some sense the economy may be improving.

CHIOTAKIS: Thanks, David. Marketplace's David Gura, in Washington. David thank you.

Thanks Steve.

Follow David Gura at @davidgura