Here’s the basic chart for new unemployment claims:
For some reason, the Department of Labor always shows these numbers in their raw form and as a 4-week moving average. I’m not sure why. The moving average smooths things out slightly, but hardly enough to matter, and they don’t do this for any other time series. Why only for this one?
In any case, I want to put up a whole different chart: initial jobless claims as a percent of the labor force. As the population of the country increases, jobless claims are also going to increase, so it hardly makes sense to compare today’s number with those from 1969. Instead, we should look at jobless claims as a percentage of the size of the current labor force:
As you can see, we didn’t set any records this month, as a few people are claiming. We set a record back in July 2014 and jobless claims have been dropping steadily ever since. For better or worse, there’s nothing special going on right now. The economy has been expanding for 108 consecutive months, and if it keeps going for another year it will set the all-time record for longest economic expansion in American history.¹
¹It’s already beaten the 106-month expansion of the go-go 60s, and all that’s left now is to beat the world champion 120-month expansion of the dotcom 90s.