Some early reports aren't pretty, but the government numbers have a way of surprising us
Officials in Washington may be bracing themselves today. Early indications suggest that Friday's unemployment report could be an ugly one. Throughout 2011, we've been provided mostly confusing data from the government jobs report. The two surveys it conducts have often disagreed on the status of the labor market. The sort of report we don't want to see, however, would be one clearly indicating that hiring has collapsed. Is that what we'll get for May?
Let's consider the early indicators we've got so far. Unemployment claims declined slightly in May, according to the Labor Department. The four-week average for claims as of the week ending May 28th was 425,500, which was 6,750 fewer than the four-week average ending April 30th. Average initial claims were lower in February and March, however.
Continuing claims also declined by 7,833 to 3.7 million for the three-week average ending May 21st (continuing claims isn't available for the prior week), compared to the four-week average ending April 30th. So this isn't great news, but it also isn't terrible -- if you assume that these numbers declined because those filing for unemployment benefits actually found jobs, and didn't just exit the job market temporarily.