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Economy in Brief

U.S. Initial Jobless Claims Fall Again
by Carol Stone, CBE  December 31, 2020

• State initial claims lower than forecast.

• PUA initial claims also down.

• Legislation renewing PUA and PEUC through March 11 was signed last weekend.

Initial claims for unemployment insurance decreased again in the week ended December 26, dipping to 787,000 seasonally adjusted from 806,000 the prior week; that earlier week was revised marginally from 803,000. The December 26 number was less than expected; the Action Economics Forecast Survey participants had estimated 830,000.

A change in the calculation of seasonal adjustment factors created a break in the series in late August. Though the current comparison to early September is valid, comparisons to before August 22 are not. Haver Analytics has calculated methodologically-consistent seasonally adjusted claims going back to 1979. This series matches the Department of Labor seasonally adjusted series since the change in methodology. For more details, please see the September 3 commentary on jobless claims.

Initial claims for the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which covers individuals such as the self-employed who are not included in regular state unemployment insurance, also fell, reaching down to 308,262 in the December 26 week from 396,948 the prior week. Note that the brief history of this program, just back to April 4, 2020, means these data and other COVID-related series are not seasonally adjusted. Currently, this may simply mean that the decline in PUA initial claims is due to the Christmas holiday.

Continuing claims for regular state unemployment insurance declined by 103,000 in the December 19 week to 5.219 million from 5.322 million the week before. Continuing PUA claims, which are lagged an additional week and not seasonally adjusted, turned down by 811,465 to 8.460 million. The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) claims also decreased in the December 12 week, falling 20,377 to 4.773 million. This program covers people who were unemployed before COVID but exhausted their state benefits and are now eligible to receive benefits through March 11, 2021. Funding for both PUA and PEUC programs was renewed in the legislation signed by President Trump last Sunday.

The seasonally adjusted state insured rate of unemployment was unchanged at 3.6% in the week ended December 19. These latest two weeks have the lowest rate since March 21. These data do not include the federal pandemic assistance programs. If you include the latest data available, which is lagged one additional week, the total number of state, PUA and PEUC continuing claims decreased by 1.016 million in the December 12 week to 18.6 million or 12.7% of covered employment.

The state insured rates of unemployment – which do not include the special federal programs – continued to show wide variation; In the December 12 week, Utah has the lowest rate at 0.98%, with Alaska the highest at 6.55%. The largest states ranged between 1.84% for Florida and 5.76% for California and 5.77% for Pennsylvania; New York was 3.99% and Illinois 5.71%. These 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) 12/26/20 12/19/20 12/12/20 Y/Y % 2019 2018 2017
Initial Claims 787 806 892 258 218 221 244
Initial Claims (NSA) 841 873 942 169 218 221 243
Initial Claims Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (NSA) 308 397 454 -- -- -- --
Continuing Claims -- 5,219 5,322 202 1,701 1,756 1,961
Continuing Claims (NSA) -- 5,258 5,429 196 1,704 1,763 1,964
Continuing Claims Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (SA) -- -- 8,460 -- -- -- --
Insured Unemployment Rate (%) -- 3.6 3.6

(Dec 2019)

1.2 1.2 1.4
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