For the eighth week in a row, the number of initial jobless claims remained in the 420K range, according to the Department of Labor’s report today.  Last week saw a slight increase of just 1,000 to the number of new claims from the previous week, which got revised upward by 4,000 from the previous week’s initial report:

In the week ending June 4, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 427,000, an increase of 1,000 from the previous week’s revised figure of 426,000. The 4-week moving average was 424,000, a decrease of 2,750 from the previous week’s revised average of 426,750.

The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 2.9 percent for the week ending May 28, a decrease of 0.1 percentage point from the prior week’s unrevised rate of 3.0 percent.

The advance number for seasonally adjusted insured unemployment during the week ending May 28 was 3,676,000, a decrease of 71,000 from the preceding week’s revised level of 3,747,000. The 4-week moving average was 3,719,250, a decrease of 29,000 from the preceding week’s revised average of 3,748,250.

This puts the last two weeks at more or less the same level as the weeks before.  The 420-430K level appears to be the “new normal” for 2011, a little below the 440-460K level of 2010 but above the 380K range we saw in the first quarter of this year.  Whatever initially pushed the claim levels upward in April was not a fluke, but instead a real retreat on job creation in the economy.

The only people surprised by what is essentially a status-quo report are the economists at Reuters, where they break out the U word again … and again … and again (via Steve Eggleston):

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week, according to a report on Thursday that could reinforce fears the labor market recovery has stalled.

Initial claims for state jobless benefits increased 1,000 to 427,000, the Labor Department said. However, economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims dropping to 415,000 from a previously reported count of 422,000.

Exactly what drove them to predict a drop in the jobless-claims rate?  The only reason I can think that one could have “expected” a drop in claims is because the week in question had a major holiday (Memorial Day), which tends to suppress claims.  It’s worth considering that next week may actually be worse for that reason.

However, if Reuters’ Wizengamot expected a drop for economic reasons, I’d really like to know what those were.  There hasn’t been a positive economic indicator for weeks, inventories are at record levels, and gas prices are sapping discretionary income.  What positive news would have boosted hiring, as Reuters’ economists expected?

Or, for that matter, Bloomberg’s?

U.S. initial jobless claims unexpectedly rose last week, a sign that the labor market is struggling to gain traction.

Jobless claims increased by 1,000 to 427,000 in the week ended June 4, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg News projected a drop in claims to 419,000, according to the median forecast. The number of people on unemployment benefit rolls and those receiving extended payments decreased. …

The median forecast was based on a survey of 49 economists. Estimates ranged from 400,000 to 430,000. The Labor Department revised the prior week’s figure to 426,000 from the 422,000 initially reported.

Seriously, fellas.  Time to find new economists.