Today’s update on new filings for unemployment benefits brings a reprieve from last week’s disturbing surge in new claims. For the moment, we can breathe a sigh of relief. But while the trend has improved, it’s still not healthy.

New weekly claims for jobless benefits dropped by 33,000 last week. That’s a bigger drop than the crowd expected. Impressive, until you realize that 473,000 workers signed up for unemployment on a seasonally adjusted basis. As the chart below reminds, the trend still leaves us treading water this year. The best we can say (still) is that it’s not getting any worse, although that defense looked dead on arrival a week ago.

The case for expecting jobless claims to meander at an elevated level looks compelling, short of arguing that something’s about the intervene and provide relief in the way of material improvement in the labor market. Never say never, but there’s no obvious catalyst waiting in the wings for the near term. What’s more, there’s a case for wondering if the labor market is set to weather greater challenges before it enjoys better news. As Bloomberg News reports today,

A slowdown in U.S. business investment may soon hit the job market, further hindering a recovery in the world’s largest economy.

Capital spending, one of the few bright spots in the recovery, declined in July, according to Commerce Department figures released yesterday in Washington. Sales of new homes fell to the lowest level since data began in 1963, another report from the same agency showed, indicating a lack of jobs is crippling housing.

The next round of confirmation (or not) arrives next week, when the government releases the August payrolls report on September 3 (Friday). Meantime, there’s still enough of a gray area in the economic numbers overall to see almost anything you want. The safe assumption is that the future looks likely to bring more water torture as the economy remains technically in recovery that otherwise feels like recession. Minds will differ, of course, but more of the same appears to be heading our way.