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Economy in Brief

U.S. Initial Unemployment Claims Fall Further
by Sandy Batten  November 27, 2013

After an outsize decline in the previous week, seasonally adjusted initial unemployment claims belied market expectations in the week ending November 23, falling 10,000 to 316,000. The market consensus had looked for a modest rebound to 330,000. The November 16 reading was revised slightly higher (+3,000). Claims have fallen 57,000 since early October, and in the most recent week, the four-week average of claims fell nearly 8,000 to 331,750, its lowest reading since October 5.

While these figures would seem to point to a rather significant improvement in labor market conditions, the weekly figures need to be interpreted with some caution. As the Labor Department has noted, in the past two months, claims have been affected by computer problems in California and the federal government shutdown. Moreover, as we approach the Christmas holiday season, claims are entering a period during which it is very difficult to accurately seasonally adjust weekly data. Indeed, this week’s report may have reflected seasonal adjustment issues as Thanksgiving usually appears in the week report today. However, this year, Thanksgiving is the latest it can possibly be, occurring in the last week of November.

Nonetheless, declines in weekly claims, the four-week average, and importantly, continuing claims (which fell 91,000 to 2.776 million in the week ended November 16, latest available data and a new low for this expansion) indicate that labor market conditions have clearly improved, though the extent of the improvement may be difficult to calibrate.

Data on weekly unemployment insurance are contained in Haver's WEEKLY database and they are summarized monthly in USECON. Data for individual states are in REGIONW. The consensus estimates come from the Action Economics survey, carried in the AS1REPNA database.

Unemployment Insurance (000s) 11/23/13 11/16/13 11/09/13 Y/Y % 2012 2011 2010
Initial Claims 316 326 344 -18.5 375 409 459
Continuing Claims -- 2,776 2,867 -15.1 3,319 3,742 4,531
Insured Unemployment Rate (%) -- 2.1 2.2 2.6
2.6 3.0 3.6
Total "All Programs" (NSA) -- -- 3.913 mil. -24.5 6.049 mil. 7.724 mil. 9.825 mil.
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