Employment statistics in decline
• An index intended to show the economy’s future direction fell 0.3% in February, the fifth consecutive monthly drop, according to preliminary estimates by the Conference Board.
• The number of U.S. workers filing new claims for unemployment insurance increased sharply last week, matching a two-and-a-half-year high.
• The Conference Board said Thursday that its composite index of leading indicators fell to 135.0 in February after a revised 0.4% drop in January, with declines of 0.1% decline in December, 0.5% November, and 0.5% in October.
• The four-week average of new jobless claims rose by 6,000 to 365,250, the highest level since October 2005.
• Employment markets have weakened sharply in recent months. Non-farm payrolls fell by 22,000 in January, the first time in over four years, and then fell at a faster pace (63,000) last month. Those declines convinced many Wall Street economists that the economy is now in recession.
• In response, the Federal Reserve has lowered interest rates aggressively, including a 0.75-percentage-point reduction in the fed funds rate target on Tuesday to 2.25%. Officials have lowered the fed funds rate by three percentage points since September 2007.
• The unemployment rate for workers with unemployment insurance rose 0.1 percentage point to 2.2% in the week of March 8.