Unemployment claims: little improvement in jobs picture

Unemployment claims, although down 19,000 from a week ago, have been in a holding pattern for seven months. That suggests very sluggish improvement in jobs.

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    Unemployment claims: An unemployed worker (right) gets help from a counselor at the Nummi Reemployment Center in Fremont, Calif., last month. Initial claims for jobless benefits have been stuck at 460,000 for seven months, suggesting only very slow increase in jobs.
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The recession may be over, but Americans can't seem to hold onto jobs.

Week after week, roughly 460,000 newly laid-off workers file first-time claims for unemployment benefits. It's a pattern that's been holding for seven months now.

In the week of Nov. 21, 2009, claims fell below 500,000 for the first time in a year with some 463,000 Americans filed for benefits. That was a big plunge. But since then nothing has happened.

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Last week, 457,000 Americans filed, according to the Labor Department's weekly report of seasonally adjusted claims,

That was an impressive 19,000 improvement in claims from the week earlier. But in the bigger picture, there's no clear trend.

Totals have ranged anywhere from 433,000 to 498,000. That's far better than the 630,000 claims a year ago, but it doesn't suggest a robust recovery in jobs.

"The level of claims is considerably higher than has been in the case in the past when private nonfarm payrolls began to grow in significant, sustained fashion," writes Joshua Shapiro, a New York-based economist at MFR, in an analysis.

If they're accurate, the weekly claims suggest only very slow improvement in the labor market.

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