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Economy in Brief

U.S. Initial Claims for Unemployment Insurance Jump 70,000 in First COVID-19 Impacted Week
by Carol Stone, CBE  March 19, 2020

Initial jobless claims for unemployment insurance surged by 70,000 to 281,000 (+28.3% y/y) in the March 14 week. The previous week was unrevised at 211,000, although all these data were affected back to 2015 by the annual seasonal adjustment revision. The Action Economics Forecast Survey expected 219,000 claims. The four-week moving average of initial claims was 232,250, up from 215,750. Note that this week, ending on March 14, is the standard week -- the week of the month including the 12th -- for the collection of the monthly employment data.

The coronavirus situation had a distinct impact, which is described in the Labor Department's press release: "A number of states specifically cited COVID-19 related layoffs, while many states reported increased layoffs in service related industries broadly and in the accommodation and food services industries specifically, as well as in the transportation and warehousing industry, whether COVID-19 was identified directly or not."

Continuing claims for unemployment insurance were 1.701 million in the week ended March 7, an increase of 2,000 from the week before and down 1.9% from the year-ago week. The four-week moving average fell 7,000 to 1.703 million from 1.710 million.

The insured rate of unemployment was unchanged at 1.2% in the March 7 week, slightly higher than November 2019's record low of 1.1%. Data on the insured unemployment rate go back to 1971.

Insured rates of unemployment vary widely by state. During the week ending February 29, the lowest rates were in Florida (0.37%) North Carolina (0.46%), Georgia (0.57%), Nebraska and Tennessee (0.58%), and Arizona and Virginia (0.61%), The highest rates were in Montana (2.37%), West Virginia (2.40%), Connecticut (2.46%), New Jersey (2.68%), and Alaska (2.69). Among the other largest states by population not mentioned above the rate was 2.19% in California, 1.02% in Texas, 1.73% in New York, and 2.36% in Pennsylvania. These state data are not seasonally adjusted.

Data on weekly unemployment claims going back to 1967 are contained in Haver's WEEKLY database, and they are summarized monthly in USECON. Data for individual states are in REGIONW. The expectations figure is from the Action Economics Forecast Survey, carried in the AS1REPNA database.

Unemployment Insurance (SA, 000s) 03/14/20 03/07/20 02/29/20 Y/Y % 2019 2018 2017
Initial Claims 281 211 217 28.3 218 220 244
4-wk avg 232.25 215.75 214.00 -- -- -- --
Continuing Claims -- 1,701 1,699 -1.9 1,701 1,755 1,961
4-wk avg -- 1703.25 1710.25 -- -- -- --
Insured Unemployment Rate (%) -- 1.2 1.2

(Mar. 2019)

1.2 1.2 1.4
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