How Good Was The Good News in the Last Unemployment Report?

The country got some apparently good news from the Bureau of Labor Statistics earlier this week which reported a substantial decline in new unemployment claims. Unfortunately, as Brad DeLong points out the seasonal adjustment factor is doing all the work:

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In short, the seasonal adjustment factor predicts that new UI claims should rise by 103,000 in the week before Thanksgiving relative to two weeks before Thanksgiving. Because claims only went up by 68,000, the BLS thinks that is very good news for the job market–not as many people are being laid-off from construction and Christmas rush goods-producing jobs as December nears.

Now maybe the BLS is right. Maybe the smaller-than-suggested-by-the-historical-record increase in the number of new unemployment claims really does represent improving labor market conditions. But it seems equally possible that the historical record is an unreliable guide to our current situation with historically high levels of unemployment. Meanwhile, we still seem to be nowhere near the pace of growth at which the volume of jobless people actually declines.