Week after week, jobless claims have been hovering at their lowest levels since early 2008. That could mean layoffs are finally back at pre-crisis levels.
Initial jobless claims rose to 336,000, from an upwardly revised 334,000 the previous week, the Labor Department said Thursday. The minor increase is not unusual, since the initial claims report is notoriously choppy.
A four-week moving average -- which smoothes out the volatility -- shows that initial claims are at their lowest level in more than four years. Jobless claims are considered a proxy for layoffs, and their recent lows coincide with other data indicating that layoffs are back at pre-crisis levels.
A separate report on job openings and labor turnover, known as JOLTS, showed last week that 1.5 million people were laid off or discharged from a job in January, representing 1.1 percent of total U.S. employment.
That is a low layoff rate, consistent with normal turnover in the job market. Contrast that to the worst month for layoffs on record, January 2009, when there were 2.6 million layoffs, representing 2 percent of U.S. employment.
Meanwhile, Thursday's jobless claims report showed that about 3.1 million people filed for their second week or more of unemployment benefits two weeks ago, the most recent data available.