The Labor Department has reported new data for jobless claims. First-time jobless claims are 456,000 this week, down 3,000 from the week before, and 6,000 above expectations. The total number of people on unemployment benefits dropped by 255,000 to 4,462,000, the lowest level since December 2008. Here's what to make of the numbers.

  • The Good News: Total Jobless Benefit Rolls Way Down  The Associated Press reports, "The Labor Department says the total unemployment benefit rolls fell by 255,000 to a seasonally adjusted 4.5 million. It was the lowest total since December 2008. Analysts polled by Thomson Financial expected a much smaller drop."
  • But New Claims at Sustained High  The Big Picture's Peter Boockvar worries, "This level remains very elevated at this point in the economic cycle and still points to a still sluggish labor market."
  • Job Gains Sluggish  Bloomberg's Shobhana Chandra writes, "While payrolls rose for a fifth month in May, hiring by companies was less than forecast, underscoring Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s comments yesterday that there will be 'only a slow reduction' in the unemployment rate. Job gains are needed to spur consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of the economy, and ensure a sustained expansion."
  • How to Know When We're Recovering  24/7 Wall Street's Douglas McIntyre explains, "For the jobs figures to start looking better, the weekly claims needs to get well under that 400,000 mark.  So far that is a figure which has remained very elusive.  All of those census workers are probably throwing off the continuing claims as well."
  • Why This Is Happening  The Washington Independent's Annie Lowrey reiterates, "Starting last spring, weekly initial jobless benefit claims slid downward. In the past few months, that decline has stopped. Essentially, the economy is improving but not adding nearly enough new jobs to bring the unemployment rate down, and if the unemployment rate does not come down, it slows down the recovery."
  • Should We Reevaluate Unemployment Benefits?  The Economist looks at the downside of unemployment insurance. "America’s UI payments are usually stingier and more short-lived than their equivalents in Europe and Canada. That is not necessarily a bad thing: it is one reason why America’s unemployment rate is also usually lower. There is concern now, though, that repeated extensions of UI may have made unemployment both higher and longer-lasting."