By Jonnelle Marte
Though the number of Americans collecting unemployment benefits has notched up slightly, people who do have jobs are feeling increasingly secure, according to new data.
Unemployment claims ticked up to 377,000 in the week ending January 21, up from a revised figure of 356,000 for the previous week, according to Labor Department data released today. Despite the increase, the number remains below the 400,000 threshold some economists watch as a sign that the job and stock markets are stabilizing. It is also far from its peak of 618,000 hit in 2009. “The trend in the jobless rate slowly but surely has been getting better and better,” says Matthew Tuttle, CEO of Tuttle Wealth Management in Stamford, Conn.
The bleak jobless picture of the past year had also heightened anxiety among those who still were working, but a separate report released this week found that Americans are slowly beginning to feel safer in their jobs. For the first time since last May, the percentage of people feeling secure about their jobs outnumbered those concerned about losing their jobs, according to a January survey by Bankrate.com. Some 20% of Americans actually feel more secure in their jobs than they did last year. “The uptick in December job growth and the drop in the unemployment rate have resonated with consumers,” says Greg McBride, senior financial analyst for Bankrate.com.
To be sure, many Americans still feel down about their finances overall, with some still on the job hunt. Twenty-eight percent of those surveyed said their finances were worse off than they were last year, according to Bankrate.com. “There is definitely still a sense of insecurity in many sectors,” says Tuttle.
But some investing pros, who watch jobless claims as an economic barometer, are feeling more confident, noting that the measure doesn’t take into account how many jobs are being added. Also, two weeks ago, claims hit their lowest weekly level since April 2008. Tuttle says the improving jobs picture, along with recent market gains, have made him comfortable building up stock positions to roughly 80% of his clients’ portfolios — from nearly zero when the market volatility began in August.