Jobless Claims Continue to Fall, Signaling Distant Recovery

Initial jobless claims fell for the fourth straight week, yet another important indicator that the economy is emerging from a recession in the third quarter of 2009. Remember, this isn't unemployment peaking (unemployment figures come tomorrow and we probably won't have good news in that category for months). Instead, this is the number of people filing for first-time unemployment benefits, and some economists think it is the leading indicator for economic growth.

First, here's a graph from Calculated Risk of initial jobless claims since the 1970s. Going by the commonly used 4-week average, we're down more than 100,000 initial claims from the peak 17 weeks ago. But it's still a long way down to January 2008 levels.


CR estimates that the 4-week average will probably have to fall to 400,000 before we see unemployment stop growing. By that estimate, if we extrapolated at the current pace (four-week average of weekly unemployment claims has been decreasing by about 5,000 per week), unemployment wouldn't peak for another 7 months until March, 2010. That's more than enough time for unemployment to stretch past the 10 percent mark.

But to end on a slightly cheerful note, many economists look at peaks in initial jobless claims as sure signals of economic recovery. Robert Gordon, an economist from Northwestern University, has said that recessions tend to turn around four weeks after the peak in jobless claims. That would be now. And sure enough, the oracles of Goldman Sachs are predicting 3 percent growth in the third quarter of this year. That would make 3Q the strongest quarter since July 2007.