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Hopeful jobless claims data reveals dual-track recovery

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The slight rise in weekly jobless claims out today is not as important as the underlying trend — in fact, the four-week average for unemployment claims is down to 335,000, that’s the lowest point since November 2007.

If that date doesn’t ring any bells, it is the month before the Great Recession officially started. And yet, while jobless claims are at the same level as five years ago, the unemployment rate in November 2007 was 4.7 percent.

So we now have a job market that, from one perspective, is back to kind-of normal. At 335,000 people filing unemployment claims every week, economists expect a pretty steady, healthy increase in jobs created by American employers every month. (Economists think anything below, let’s say, 375,000 jobless claims per week indicates a decently healthy job market.) And yet, unemployment’s at 7.4 percent, which is where it was in December 2008, when the economy was really in the tank.

And this is a story of two countries: For those who have jobs, who kept jobs, things are pretty steady now. Few layoffs, decent opportunity to find a new job if you leave voluntarily or even get laid off. For those who fell into unemployment (especially long-term unemployment), or for those who never found it easy to find a job (poorly educated, ex-cons, hunt-and-peck typists), it’s a 14 percent unemployment world (the “Total” unemployment rate, including underemployment), and the economy is still in the dumps.

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