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Economy in Brief

U.S. Unemployment Claims Again Edge Down
by Carol Stone, CBE  November 18, 2021

• Initial claims set new low since March 14, 2020.

• Continuing claims in regular programs also make new pandemic-period low.

• But continued claims in PUA program jump in October 30 week.

Initial claims for unemployment insurance edged down 1,000 in the week ended November 13 to 268,000 from 269,000 the prior week; that earlier tally was revised slightly from 267,000 initially reported. The Action Economics Forecast Survey had expected 261,000 initial claims for the latest week. The 4-week moving average fell to 272,750 in the November 13 week from 278,500 the week before. Both the most recent week's claims and the four-week average again set a new post-pandemic low since March 14, 2020 when initial claims were 256,000 and the four-week average was 225,500.

Initial claims for the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program in the week ended November 13 fell to 1,387 from 1,863 in the prior week. The latest number was the smallest amount since the program began on April 4, 2020, at the start of the pandemic. This program expired on September 4, explaining the marked decline in new claims over the past several weeks. By comparison, these claims averaged 107,756 per week during August, the last full month of the program. The PUA program provided benefits to individuals who are not eligible for regular state unemployment insurance benefits, such as the self-employed. Given the brief history of this program, these and other COVID-related series are not seasonally adjusted.

Continued weeks claims for regular state unemployment insurance fell to 2.080 million in the week ended November 6, also a new pandemic-period low, from 2.209 million in the October 30 week; that earlier week’s number was revised from 2.160 million first reported. The insured unemployment rate – that is, continued weeks claims as a percentage of total covered employment – was 1.5%, down from 1.6% in the prior two weeks and also a new pandemic-period low since March 14, 2020. Before the pandemic, the rate had hovered near 1.2% almost every week for about two year.

In the week ended October 30, continued weeks claims in the Pandemic Assistance Program (PUA) program jumped up to 791,060 from 253,593 the prior week. Despite the latest week’s jump, the number of continued weeks claims was still a major step down from the 4.896 million in the last week of the program, September 4. Continued weeks claims for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) rose to 272,974 in that October 30 week, up from 256,496 in the week ended October 23; while this was another increase from the low of 233,684 the week of October 16, it still compares to the much higher 3,644,555 the last week of the program on September 4. This program covered people who had exhausted their state unemployment insurance benefits

In the week ended October 30 the total number of all state, federal, PUA and PEUC continued claims was 3.185 million, up 619,000 from the pandemic-period low of 2.566 million in the October 23 week, which was indeed the smallest amount since March 14, 2020, when continued claims totaled 2.103 million.. These figures are not seasonally adjusted.

The state insured rates of unemployment in regular programs continue to vary widely. In the week ending October 30, the highest insured unemployment rates were in California (3.05%), Alaska (2.54%), Hawaii (2.51%), Illinois (2.46%) and New Jersey (2.42%). The lowest rates were in South Dakota (0.25%), Nebraska (0.34%), North Dakota (0.37%), Alabama (0.39%) and Utah (0.39%). Insured unemployment rates in other large states included Pennsylvania (1.87%), New York (1.85%), Texas (1.10%), Ohio (0.84%), and Florida (0.64%). 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 and is in the AS1REPNA database.

Unemployment Insurance (SA, 000s) 11/13/21 11/06/21 10/30/21 Y/Y % 2020 2019 2018
Initial Claims 268.0 269.0 271.0 -63.4 1352.1 218.0 220.4
Initial Claims (NSA) 238.9 257.0 241.7 -66.3 1352.7 217.6 220.9
Initial Claims Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (NSA) 1.4 1.9 2.2 -99.5 -- -- --
Continuing Claims -- 2080.0 2209.0 -67.4 10379.7 1699.0 1754.2
Continuing Claims (NSA) -- 1754.0 1953.0 -71.1 10369.7 1703.6 1763.2
Continuing Claims Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (NSA) -- -- 791.1 -91.1 -- -- --
Insured Unemployment Rate (%) -- 1.5 1.6

(Nov 2020)

7.1 1.2 1.2
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