Data such as the weekly figures on jobless claims are supposed to be "seasonally adjusted" to account for temporary factors that aren't really connected to the underlying strength or weakness of the economy.
But Thursday morning's report seems to underscore how hard it can be to make such adjustments.
According to the Employment and Training Administration, there were 368,000 first-time claims filed for jobless benefits last week — far above the 300,000 applications the week before.
Bloomberg News says that "the data reflect seasonal adjustment volatility around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, a Labor Department spokesman said as the figures were released." Reuters adds that the Labor Department analyst said "that seasonal volatility, including a late Thanksgiving, made it difficult adjusting the data for seasonal variations."
The test of whether Thursday's report is or isn't a true deviation from the recent trend of generally good news about the labor market will come next week, of course, when the agency issues new data on jobless claims and possibly revises the figures it released today.
Thursday morning's other economic news was more positive. The Census Bureau said retail sales rose 0.7 percent in November from October. Bloomberg News notes the increase was a bit more than expected and is a sign that "Americans bought cars and took advantage of discounts going into the holiday-shopping season."