The BLS reported that for the week ending December 5, seasonally adjusted initial jobless claims were 474,000, up from last week's number of 457,000.
The 4-week moving average is now 473,750, down 7,750 from last week. The 4 week seasonally adjusted moving average is now about 27% lower than the peak of 658,750 on April 3 of this year. (In the last two "jobless recoveries", new claims never declined anywhere near 27% from peak).
Unadjusted, there were 664,865 new claims, an increase of 204,703 from the week before, and well below the 759,531 initial claims in the same week last year.
There is a lot of seasonal variability in jobless claims at this time of year, and arguably this week's reading is closer to the "real" declining trend number, which is obviously still getting better. Next week's initial jobless claims number is the Big One, because it will coincide with the week during which the BLS will do its December jobs survey. Here's the relationship between the initial jobless claims number in the refernce week (left) and the monthly jobs number (right) for the last few months:
2009-09-01 (+564) (-139)
2009-10-01 (+532) (-111)
2009-11-01 (+513) (- 11)
In summary, assuming there is no horrible surprise next week, initial jobless claims are predicting actual job growth in the economy during December.
In case you missed it, Berkeley Economics Professor Brad DeLong commented yesterday that he hopes I'm right about the relationship between jobless claims and payroll growth. I hope that if he is right (we need to get down to 400,000 jobless claims), I am proven wrong quickly!
Here is a chart of the relevant data:
Notice the 4-week moving average has been dropping since the mid-Spring. In other words -- the trend is strongly in place.