Unemployment insurance was sought by 16,000 additional workers during the week of March 17; down for the second consecutive week. The longer-term layoff trend, however, remained consistent with an improving job market. Applications rose to 357,000 for the week ending March 23, up from 341,000 one week earlier. The four-week average also rose 2,250 to 343,000. The labor market continues to be perceived as strengthening despite the previous weeks’ higher unemployment claims.
First-time applications continue to decline while hiring accelerates, maintaining a 7.7 percent national unemployment rate. The total number of people receiving unemployment aid of any kind for the week ending March 9th reached almost 5.5 million, up 87,000 from the previous week but much lower than the 7.2 million one year earlier. Employers have also added an average of 200,000 jobs per month since November.
Other signs of an improving economy include continually increasing house prices, which are growing at the fastest rate since mid 2006, and growing demand for longer-lasting factory goods. But despite the improving job market, the economy is still a far cry from what it was before the recession began. The U.S. current has approximately 3 million fewer jobs than in December 2007 as home prices are 29 percent lower than their peak during the housing bubble in August 2006.