March 8, 2012

More Grading on the Curve: At RTT, Acceptable Weekly Unemployment Claims Threshold Is Now Any Reading Below 400,000

The Department of Labor reported today that initial claims for unemployment benefits increased to 362,000 from an upwardly revised (as usual) 354,000 the previous week. Expectations were for a reading of 351,000 (Business Insider's email) or 352,000 (Bloomberg).

Over at the Associated Press, also known as the Administration's Press, the headlined reaction in its 9:17 a.m. report was: "Applications Hover Near Low Levels." As usual, it took a New Media source, in this case Zero Hedge, to point out something potentially troubling in the news, namely that "this is the first time we have seen three consecutive weeks of rises since August 2010." True, the rises have been modest, but next week will almost certainly see an upward revision to this week (the case for 51 of the past 52 weeks, averaging almost 4,000 and with no decreases). Modest or not, they run counter to presumptive press claims that the job market is "healing" (Reuters) and "improving" (Bloomberg). The howler of the day came from RTT News, which "offers custom news and information solutions" for which subscribers apparently pay at least $250 a month:

U.S. Weekly Jobless Claims Rise Unexpectedly But Remain Below 400,000

(RTTNews) – New claims for unemployment insurance in the U.S. ticked up unexpectedly last week, according to figures released Thursday by the Labor Department.

Labor Department figures put the level of initial jobless claims at a seasonally adjusted 362,000 for the week ended March 3rd, an increase of 8,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 354,000.

Additionally, the previous week's claims levels were upwardly revised from the 351,000 initially reported.

While most economists had predicted that new claims would hold level at the 351,000 initially reported for the previous week, the latest figure still remains comfortably below the 400,000 level that most economists believe is the threshold for lowering the overall unemployment rate.

Jobless claims have remained below the key 400,000 level for all but two of the last 18 weekly reports.

Gosh, three years ago, according to Christopher Rugaber at AP, the threshold for meaningful improvement was 325,000. He has since gone to 375,000, which he stuck to in his report today. But RTT's take is the first I've seen of 400,000.

It does not seem that an outfit like RTT would determine that figure on its own. It appears that it may have gleaned the number from an October 2011 report, where Annalyn Censky wrote that "Economists often look to see initial claims fall below 400,000, to signal a lower unemployment rate …"

It must be nice to have the media grade your work on a curve that is 15% to 23% (50K and 75K divided by 325K) more generous than it was less than three years ago, for no apparent reason beyond enabling almost any economic news about the current presidential administration during an election year to be cast in a favorable light.

Cross-posted at


1 Comment

  1. [...] today (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog), I noted the press’s ridiculously forgiving coverage of today’s reported increase in [...]

    Pingback by BizzyBlog — March 8, 2012 @ 5:08 pm

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