The Department of Labor is reporting a drop in new unemployment claims for the week ending December 26. Mutterings about the economy this week have been grim as pundits reflect on a year and decade of economic woes; the snowout of a prime holiday shopping weekend left some commentators worried about depressed sales. But could these new unemployment figures confirm the upward trend reported in early December, and give some hope for 2010? Maybe, say number-watchers cautiously. Here's why:

  • Beats Expectations, The Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal notes: so-called "initial jobless claims" fell from 454,000 to 432,000, much better than the predicted rise to 460,000. So, he concludes, "the last big jobs number of the year is a good one."
  • Could Employers Actually Be Hiring?  David Schepp picks out another fact in his analysis for Daily Finance:
In addition, the government said, the number of unemployed people collecting jobless benefits fell 57,000 to 4.98 million for the week ending Dec. 19, while the four-week average of continuing claims fell 122,500 to 5.1 million. The data suggests that fewer employers are cutting jobs and some may even be hiring.
  • Not So Fast  Bill McBride at popular economics blog Calculated Risk reminds readers that, while the news is good, "the 4-week average suggests continuing job losses. Also we have to be careful because data can be volatile during the holidays."
  • Did Snow, Bizarrely, Help Unemployment Numbers?  For Barron's, Tiernan Ray looks at Briefing.com's suggestion that "severe snow storms last week may have made it difficult for some to get to an unemployment office," temporarily lowering claim numbers. He doesn't think that likely, arguing that snow "seems somewhat irrelevant in an Internet age. Though if you are out of work," he allows, "you may not have a computer, or a telephone, for that matter." He points to the S&P 500 stock index rising at the good employment news.