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Economy in Brief

U.S. Initial Unemployment Insurance Claims Fall Sharply
by Tom Moeller  February 25, 2021

• First-time claims are at lowest level since late-November.

• Continuing claims continue their downward trend.

• Insured jobless rate eases.

Initial jobless insurance claims declined 111,000 in the week ended February 20 to 730,000 from 841,000 in the prior week, revised from 861,000. The four-week moving average of initial claims eased to 807,750, its lowest since early-December. The Action Economics Forecast Survey expected 828,000 initial claims for the latest week.

Initial claims for the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program declined to 451,402 last week from 512,862 in the prior week. These claims remained, nevertheless, near the recent high. The PUA program covers individuals such as the self-employed who are not included in regular state unemployment insurance. Given the brief history of this program, which started April 4, 2020, these and other COVID-related series are not seasonally adjusted.

Continuing claims for regular state unemployment insurance fell to 4.419 million in the week ended February 13 from 4,520 million during the prior week, revised from 4.494 million. Continuing PUA claims for the week of February 6 eased to 7.519 million from 7.686 million in the prior week. The number of Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) claims rose to 5.066 million in the week of February 5 from 4.062 million the week before. It was the highest level of claims for this program. It 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 701,102 to 19.043 million in the first week of February from 18.342 million the prior week. This grand total is not seasonally adjusted.

The seasonally adjusted state insured rate of unemployment edged lower to 3.1% in the week ended February 13 from 3.2% in the prior week. It was the lowest level since the third week of March 2020.

The state insured rates of unemployment – which do not include the special federal programs – continued to show wide variation. In the week ended February 5, Alabama had the lowest rate at 0.91%, and Alaska's was the highest at 5.85%. Among the larger states, Florida had a rate of 2.69%. Texas' rate stood at 2.91%. California's rate was 4.30% and Illinois' rate was 4.79%. New York's rate was 5.04%. 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) 02/20/21 02/13/21 02/06/21 Y/Y % 2020 2019 2018
Initial Claims 730 841 848 232 1,450 218 221
Initial Claims Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (NSA) 451 513 342 -- -- -- --
Continuing Claims -- 4,419 4,520 161 10,664 1,701 1,756
Continuing Claims Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (NSA) -- -- 7,519 -- -- -- --
Insured Unemployment Rate (%) -- 3.1 3.2

(Feb 2020)

7.3 1.2 1.2
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