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Mark Zandi: My Favorite Indicator

Chief economist, Moody's

The figure that matters to most people is jobs.

An accurate and timely barometer for that is initial claims for unemployment insurance. Released every Thursday morning by the Labor Dept., this indicator measures the number of people who go to unemployment offices and announce that they are out of work.

In the first half of 2009, more than 600,000 initial claims were made each week. But since July, the numbers have fallen to about 450,000, which means that the economy is recovering. So far, the economy has had trouble evolving from recovery to expansion because businesses are still shell-shocked and are not hiring. Only when initial claims head toward 400,000 will the economy be creating enough jobs to maintain stable unemployment. Closer to 350,000 will lower the unemployment rate and mean that this recovery is evolving into an expansion. When we get to initial weekly unemployment claims of 300,000, boom times are back.

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