The new numbers helped tamp down concerns that the sequester might already be having an impact on the job market after initial claims soared to 388,000 two weeks ago. That spike now appears to have been a temporary happenstance caused by difficulties in seasonal adjustments associated with Easter and spring break.
In all unemployment benefit programs, state and federal emergency extensions, the total number of people making claims for the week ending March 30 fell to 5,152,655. For the comparable week of 2012, there were 6,765,119 persons claiming benefits in all programs. The drop comes from a combination of some people finding jobs and others leaving the labor force or exhausting their benefits.
As has been the case for some time, data continue to be mixed, offering a murky picture of where the economy, in general, and job growth, in particular, are headed. Residential construction, a major driver of recovery in previous recessions, has finally showed some signs of robustness. But while manufacturing is still expanding, it is moving forward at a slower pace. Both the Philly Federal Reserve's index of business conditions and the April Empire State Manufacturing Index slipped, although they remained in positive territory.
Retail sales in the United States fell in March by 0.4 percent, according to the Commerce Department, the worst showing since June 2012.
Then, too, there is confusion regarding consumer sentiment. The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan index consumer sentiment fell to a nine-month low last week. But the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose to a five-year high.