Joblessness Falls Slightly. Maybe.

At first blush, this looks like good news.

The number of laid-off workers filing for unemployment benefits dropped sharply last week after having been driven higher the previous week by storm-related layoffs.

The Labor Department reported that applications for jobless benefits totaled 332,000 last week, down by 27,000 from the previous week.

The prior week jobless claims had jumped by 46,000, the biggest one-week increase since September 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Part of that big increase occurred because of winter storms that boosted layoffs in such industries as construction.

The four-week moving average for claims edged up from 326,700 to 328,000, the highest level for this average since early December.

The problem is, it may not mean anything.

But economists cautioned that the current jobless claims figures may just reflect the difficulty the government has in seasonally adjusting the numbers at this time of year when major winter snowstorms can alter the number of people showing up at claims offices in any one week.

“We may not get a clear read on the underlying pace of layoffs until March,” said Omair Sharif, an economic strategist at RBS Greenwich Capital. He said it would be premature based on current information to contend that layoffs have diverged significantly from the 315,000 weekly average for all of last year.

We waited a long time for the economy to recover after Bush trashed it to justify his $$$TRILLION$$$ tax give-away, and even longer for the “recovery” to trickle down from Wall Street to the point where it began to affect normal folks like us. Every time the labor market or wages show signs of inching up, conservatives and the Wall Street Journal start screaming, “INFLATION IS COMING! INFLATION IS COMING!” like they were Paul Revere warning of the British invasion (although the skyrocketing pay rates of corporate executives to 4000% of the average employee’s doesn’t seem to engender the same hysteria, for some reason) and before you know it any gains are erased by lay-offs in the stampede to keep “run-away inflation under control”.

The overall trend in the last 6 months or so has been cautiously, mildly, gingerly, tentatively up, although just how many of those new jobs pay a living wage is open to question. We’re still creating more in the lowest-paying service sector than anywhere else, and there have been hints that even that sector may start out-sourcing certain segments of itself to Africa and Asia in the near future.

So as much as I would like to cheer this news, the best I can muster up is a modified “That’s nice. Maybe.” Once again we’ll have to wait and see if Bernanke and the Fed or the corporatocracy panics and sabotages the improvement in the name of protecting us from the Inflation Monster.

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