While Barack Obama tours the nation claiming that the economy has started heading in the right direction, the data continues to show otherwise.  Today, the Department of Labor announced that initial jobless claims hit 500,000 last week, the highest level in 2010 and highest since last November.  The four-week rolling average spiked upward again as well:

In the week ending Aug. 14, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 500,000, an increase of 12,000 from the previous week’s revised figure of 488,000. The 4-week moving average was 482,500, an increase of 8,000 from the previous week’s revised average of 474,500.

On the road, however, Obama continues to insist that his team has rescued the economy and that life is steadily improving for Americans:

Though he expressed rock-solid confidence that his economic policies are taking the country in the right direction, Obama warned the crowd that it could take a couple more years before the economy is healthy again.

“The truth is it’s going to take a few years to fully dig ourselves out of this recession,” Obama said. “Anybody who tells you otherwise is just looking for your vote. But here’s what I can tell you: After 18 months, I have never been more confident that our nation is headed in the right direction.”

Let’s take a look at that direction.  Below, I’ve charted the initial jobless claims for 2010, including this week’s report:

The one dip in July came from the Independence Day holiday.  Otherwise, this measure has mostly demonstrated stagnation all year long, far above the level needed to show real job growth.  Now it’s going in the wrong direction entirely, heading back up to 2009’s levels of constant job losses.

If the White House wonders why Americans increasingly see this President as disconnected and out of touch with mainstream America, this explains it. While more people lose their jobs, Obama keeps insisting that he’s succeeding in healing the economy.  Between believing Obama and their own lyin’ eyes, voters are increasingly choosing the latter.

Update: Reuters gets surprised again:

New claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly climbed to a nine-month high last week, government data showed on Thursday, yet another setback to the frail economic recovery.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 500,000 in the week ended August 14, the highest since mid-November, the Labor Department said.

Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast claims slipping to 476,000 from the previously reported 484,000 the prior week, which was revised up to 488,000 in Thursday’s report.

CNBC’s headline writer also got gobsmacked, writing this header for the Reuters story: “Weekly Jobless Claims Post Surprise Jump, Hit 500,000.”  Maybe Reuters should seriously look at hiring better analysts.