Economic Report: Jobless Claims

The number of people filing for first time unemployment benefits rose in the latest week, continuing its sharp upward trend that began during the first part of this new year. According to the US Department of Labor, for the week ending March 21st, initial jobless claims rose by 8,000 to stand at 652,000. That’s slightly off the highest levels seen since October 1982. The reading is slightly worse than forecast, as expectations were for an increase to 650,000 new claims. For some perspective: initial claims running consistently atop the 350,000 mark would signal some weakening in the labor market. Claims above 400,000 are seen by many as a signal of recession.

Having witnessed extremely volatile measurements in the past few months, it is wise to consider the four-week moving average of initial claims, which smooths out one-time factors such as bad weather or holidays. The four-week average temporarily halted its trek upwards, falling by 1,000 to 649,000. It’s slightly off the highest levels seen since October 1982.

The underlying trend in claims is still rising, and could reach a peak of 750,000 – Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist with High Frequency Economics

Over the past few months, businesses have been laying off more employees at an increasing pace, and the unemployed are having a much harder time looking for a replacement job. A year ago, initial claims were at 367,000.

But, although claims are at levels not seen since the severe 1982 recession, the context today is much different. For one, the workforce is around 50% larger than it was in 1982, so a frightening 600,000+ number is not nearly as bad as it was then.

Continuing claims are once again making new records, after dropping for the first time in seven weeks:

The number of people collecting state unemployment benefits reached yet another new record, jumping 122,000 to a seasonally adjusted 5.56 million, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

The four-week average of these claims rose 123,750 to stand at 5.33 million — in itself a record high since the U.S. began compiling these statistics — also as of in the week ended March 14. – MarketWatch

Read the Full Report.

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