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Economy in Brief

U.S. Initial Jobless Claims Decrease, but Sustain Recent Range
by Carol Stone, CBE  January 28, 2021

• State initial claims fall 67,000; PUA claims ease 20,472.

• Continuing claims ease, with prior week revised a bit lower.

• Insured jobless rate ticks down to 3.4%.

Initial claims for unemployment insurance decreased to 847,000 in the week ended January 23 from 914,000 the week before, which was revised from 900,000. While this was the second consecutive decline in initial claims, they remain well within the range that has prevailed for the last five months. The latest week was again very close to the Action Economics Forecast Survey estimate which was 875,000 for the week.

Initial claims for the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program were 426,856 in this latest week, down modestly from 447,328 the prior week; that number was revised from 423,734. The PUA program covers individuals such as the self-employed who are not included in regular state unemployment insurance. Note that the brief history of this program, which started April 4, 2020, means these data and other COVID-related series are not seasonally adjusted.

Continuing claims for regular state unemployment insurance decreased 203,000 in the week ended January 16 to 4.771 million from 4.974 million the week before; that previous week was revised down from 5.054 million. Continuing PUA claims, which are lagged an additional week and not seasonally adjusted, rose markedly to 7.334 million in the January 9 week. Despite this sizable weekly increase, it does not offset the decline the week before, and these claims are thus the second lowest since May 2, 2020. Similarly, the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) claims also rose in the January 9 week, reaching 3.864 million from 3.027 million the prior week. This program covers people who were unemployed before COVID but exhausted their state benefits and are now eligible to receive benefits through March 14, 2021.

The total number of all state, federal and PUA and PEUC continuing claims rose 2.293 million in the January 9 week to 18.282 million. Again, the specialized pandemic-related programs and much small federal government and veteran programs are not seasonally adjusted, so this latest increase can reflect a return to regular schedules after the holiday period and not necessarily a deterioration in economic conditions.

The seasonally adjusted state insured rate of unemployment was 3.4% in the week ended January 16, down from 3.5% in the January 9 week; that was revised from 3.6% reported before. The latest week is the lowest since March 21, 2020.

The state insured rates of unemployment – which do not include the special federal programs – continued to show wide variation. In the week ended January 9, Alabama again had the lowest rate at 0.83% and Kansas again posted the highest at 7.67%. The larger states ranged between 1.85% for Florida and 6.97% for Pennsylvania; this latter was the second highest overall. Texas had 3.00%, New York 4.99%, Illinois 5.50% and California 5.28% These state rates are not seasonally adjusted.

As we continue to point out, the Labor Department changed its seasonal adjustment methodology back in August from multiplicative to additive. They did not restate the earlier data, so there is a break in the series in late August. Though the current comparison to early September is valid, comparisons with figures before August 22 are not. Haver Analytics has calculated methodologically consistent seasonally adjusted claims series dating back to 1979. This series matches the Department of Labor seasonally adjusted series since their change in methodology. For more details, please see the September 3 commentary on jobless claims.

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) 01/23/21 01/16/21 01/09/21 Y/Y % 2020 2019 2018
Initial Claims 847 914 927 300 1,450 218 221
Initial Claims (NSA) 874 975 1,113 282 1,367 218 221
Initial Claims Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (NSA) 427 447 285 -- -- -- --
Continuing Claims -- 4,771 4,974 180 10,664 1,701 1,756
Continuing Claims (NSA) -- 5,209 5,483 151 10,358 1,704 1,763
Continuing Claims Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (NSA) -- -- 7,334 -- -- -- --
Insured Unemployment Rate (%) -- 3.4 3.5

(Jan 2020)

7.3 1.2 1.2
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