Is it a game-changer? A tipping point? A moment when the economy finally turned a corner for the better in a meaningful way? Possibly. Meantime, one can argue that this is why the stock market has been rallying this year: anticipating better economic news. And we certainly have some in this morning’s weekly update of new filings for unemployment benefits. Initial jobless claims unexpectedly dropped to 284,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis for the week through July 19. That’s the lowest level since February 2006 and a strong sign that the moderately stronger gains in private payrolls in recent months will continue if not accelerate.
A single chart shows you most of what you need to know. As you can see in the graph below, weekly claims (blue line) have taken a sharp turn lower, well below the range we’ve seen in recent history. Meantime, note that the year-over-year change in claims confirms the bullish news in the weekly numbers. Indeed, claims fell 17% last week vs. the year earlier level. That’s the biggest annual decline since last November and another reason to think that the labor market will continue to grow, perhaps at a faster pace than we’ve seen lately.
If there’s a caveat here, it’s the usual one. Jobless claims data are notoriously volatile and subject to dramatic revisions on a week-to-week basis. It wouldn’t be terribly surprising to see today’s estimate rise by a fair amount in next week’s release. But for now, it’s reasonable to argue that the labor market remains on a growth track. Next week’s claims report will bring additional context for deciding if the case for projecting an accelerating rate of growth in private payrolls still looks viable.