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Fewer people seek jobless benefits

David Gura Dec 15, 2011

Kai Ryssdal: There is — and this is kind of an understatement — a whole lotta data about the economy. Some we pay attention to. Some we don’t. We usually put the weekly unemployment report — the number of Americans who made their first claims for unemployment benefits — in the don’t pile, because that number comes out weekly and measuring the American economy on a weekly basis is tricky.

But we break with that tradition today. From Washington, Marketplace’s David Gura explains why.

David Gura: Two weeks ago, economist Nigel Gault noticed something. He’s with IHS Global Insight. The number of Americans filing for unemployment for the first time that week fell by almost 20,000.

Nigel Gault: And most people had expected that that might have just been a temporary blip downwards, and most people were looking for those claims to actually get worse, to rise this week.

But they didn’t. Today we learned that last week that number fell again — to the lowest level in more than three years.

Scott Anderson is a senior economist at Wells Fargo, and he says that’s good news — fewer people are getting fired.

Scott Anderson: I think the evidence is piling up that the U.S. job market may be stirring back to life in the fourth quarter.

Take the average number of Americans filing for unemployment for the first time over the last four weeks — that’s also down.  But economists are, shall we say, cautiously optimistic about this trend. Employment numbers around the holidays can be unreliable. If the weather turns bad, construction workers can be laid off.

And there’s another thing. Tom Porcelli is with RBC Capital Markets.

Tom Porcelli: What I think people have to remember about this claims number is that it only captures one side of the equation.

Nigel Gault, of IHS Global Insights, agrees.

Gault: We have to keep an eye on hiring, of course, as well as firing. These statistics just told us about firing. That has gone down.

But hiring? It looks like we’ve still got a ways to go to make a big dent in unemployment. We’ll get more numbers on the hiring side of the employment equation soon.

In Washington, I’m David Gura for Marketplace.

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