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Economy in Brief

State & Pandemic Assistance Initial Claims Total 46.7 Million in Last Ten Weeks; State Continuing Claims Decline
by Gerald D. Cohen  May 28, 2020

• Initial jobless claims decreased to a still extremely-elevated 2.123 million in the week ending May 23.

• Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program at 1.19 million new filers; previous week revised down substantially driven by Massachusetts.

• Continuing claims decline for state programs to 21.1 million; PUA rises to 7.8 million.

• Thirty-seven states had insured unemployment rates above 10%, Washington hits 31.2%.

Initial jobless claims for unemployment insurance decreased to 2.123 million during the week ending May 23 from a slightly upwardly-revised 2.446 million (was 2.438 million). During the last ten weeks 40.8 million people or 25.0% of the labor force have filed new jobless claims. The Action Economics Forecast Survey anticipated 2.0 million claims.

The four-week moving average of initial claims, which smooths out week-to-week volatility, but is less important at the moment because of the rapidity of changing conditions, declined to 2.608 million from 3.044 million.

Claims for the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which covers individuals such as the self-employed who are not qualified for regular/state unemployment insurance, decreased to 1.193 million in the week ending May 23 from a downwardly-revised 1.247 million (was 2.227). This is predominantly the result of a 1.069 million downward revision to claims in Massachusetts, which had flagged a Department of Labor reporting error. As a result, Haver Analytics changed both the Massachusetts and national PUA numbers last week, so the revision to our data was substantially smaller. PUA claims totaled 5.3 million (3.3% of the labor force) in the six weeks that data has been reported. Numbers for this and other federal programs are not seasonally adjusted.

Continuing claims for unemployment insurance declined to 21.052 million in the week ending May 16, from a downwardly-revised 24.912 million (was 25.073 million). Continuing PUA claims, which are lagged an additional week, rose to 7.793 million. Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation claims increased to 222,300 in the week ending May 9. This program covers people who were unemployed before COVID but exhausted their state benefits and are now eligible to receive an additional 13 weeks of unemployment insurance, up to a total of 39 weeks.

The decline in state continuing claims suggests that some workers are being rehired. However the very large gap between the 38.6 million nine-week total of state initial claims through May 16 and 21.052 million level of continuing claims suggest it is difficult to infer how many. The data we have in hand for PUA claims is indicative of the opposite trend -- initial claims in the four-weeks of reported data through May 2 total 2.3 million, while continuing claims were 7.8 million.

The insured rate of unemployment declined to 14.5% in the week ending May 16 from the previous week's record 17.1% (data goes back to 1971). The state insured rates of unemployment continued to show wide variation with Utah at just 5.9% and Washington at 31.2%. Thirty-seven states had rates over 10%, and six states were over 20%, including California (20.6%). Michigan (23.1%) and Florida (25.0%). Texas now topped 10% (10.6%) and New York stood at 19.9%.The state rates 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) 05/23/20 05/16/20 05/09/20 Y/Y % 2019 2018 2017
Initial Claims 2,123 2,446 2,687 874 218 221 244
  4-wk Average 2,608 3,044 3,543 -- -- -- --
Initial Claims Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (NSA) 1,193 1,247 850 -- -- -- --
Continuing Claims -- 21,052 24,912 1,157 1,701 1,756 1,961
  4-week Average -- 22,722 21,962 -- -- -- --
Continuing Claims Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (NSA) -- -- 7,793 -- -- -- --
Insured Unemployment Rate (%) -- 14.5 17.1

(May 2019)

1.2 1.2 1.4
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