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Economy in Brief

U.S. Continuing Claims for Unemployment Insurance Touch New Record; Initial Claims Dip
by Tom Moeller March 19, 2009

The latest figures from the Labor Department continue to indicate extreme weakness in the labor market. Continuing claims for unemployment insurance reached another record. At 5,473,000, the level of continuing claims in the latest week remained nearly double that of last March. The series dates back to 1966. The four-week average of continuing claims jumped 118,800 to 5,251,250. Continuing claims provide some indication of workers' ability to find employment and they lag the initial claims figures by one week.

The figures on initial claims may indicate improvement in the picture of the labor market, but at this point, it's very tentative. First time claims for unemployment insurance reversed the prior week's upwardly revised gain and claims have been stable for a few weeks. The 12,000 decline in the latest period to 646,000, nevertheless, still left them near their highest level since 1982.

The latest initial claims figures include the survey period for March nonfarm payroll employment. There was a 15,000 (2.4%) increase in claims from the February period. During the last ten years there has been an 85% (negative) correlation between the level of claims and the month-to-month change in nonfarm payroll employment.

BLS indicated that the largest increases in initial claims for the week ending March 7 were in Indiana (+5,603), Pennsylvania (+4,702), Texas (+4,007), Florida (+3,894), and Michigan (+2,276), while the largest decreases were in New York (-11,218), Connecticut (-2,254), Tennessee (-2,153), California (-1,277), and Oregon (-1,139).

Though the latest level of continuing claims was a record, the labor force has grown as well, by nearly 30% over the last twenty years. Therefore, the insured rate of unemployment is not at a record high. It rose to 4.1% which was the highest since June of 1983. During the last ten years there has been a 93% correlation between the level of the insured unemployment rate and the overall rate of unemployment published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The highest insured unemployment rates in the week ending February 28 were in Michigan (8.0 percent), Oregon (7.7), Idaho (7.3), Wisconsin (6.9), Pennsylvania (6.8), Puerto Rico (6.6), Rhode Island (6.4), Nevada (6.2), Montana (6.1), and Alaska (6.0).

The unemployment insurance claim data is available in Haver's WEEKLY database.

More Money: Understanding Recent Changes in the Monetary Base from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis is available here.

Unemployment Insurance (000s)  03/14/09 03/07/09 02/28/09 Y/Y 2008 2007 2006 
Initial Claims 646 658 645 72.3% 420 321 313
Continuing Claims -- 5,473 5,288 91.0% 3,342 2,552 2,459
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