There are some recent signs that the U.S. economy relative to unemployment may be in the early stages of improving. Although the last three years following the Lehman shock and subsequent Great Recession have been pretty dismal on the job front and the high U.S. unemployment for the past two years has been going down at a glacial pace, there is finally some improved news indicating that we may soon begin to see some reduction in unemployment. However, given all the economic shocks we’ve had over the past year that have kept unemployment in the 9% range and the fact that the European debt crisis hasn’t been solved, nothing is for certain.
In general, however, the number of people who applied for unemployment benefits (i.e., initial jobless claims) last week in the U.S. fell to a seasonally adjusted 390,000, according to the Labor Department. That’s the fewest since April of this year. And it is down substantially from a high of over 650,000 at the height of the recession. If this number can continue to stay under 400,000 and steadily decline to below 350,000, then we’ll have a more solid story to tell. However, for now the downward trend in new unemployment claims suggests that businesses are laying off fewer workers. Also, a separate report this past week showed that employers advertised more jobs in September than at any other point in the past three years. This is some of the most positive news we’ve had regarding hiring in a long time.
In addition to the unemployment numbers, the U.S. trade deficit narrowed to $43.1 billion in September, its lowest point of the year, the Commerce Department said. Foreign sales of American-made autos, airplanes and heavy machinery pushed exports to an all-time high. In September, exports increased 1.4 percent to a record $180.4 billion, reflecting a big increase in shipments of U.S. made autos and auto parts, the Commerce Department said. Imports were up a smaller 0.4 percent to $223.5 billion. Oil imports slowed after huge gains earlier in the year. The deficit has narrowed for the last three months. Overall, the lower trade deficit could increase the July-September quarter to annual rate of 2.8% up from current initial estimate of 2.5%. 11.16.2011