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Economy in Brief

U.S. Unemployment Claims Plummet
by Kathleen Stephansen, CBE  November 24, 2021

• Initial claims are the lowest since 1969.

• Continuing claims in regular programs reach a new pandemic-period low.

• Continued claims in PUA program dropped in the week of November 6.

Initial claims for unemployment insurance dropped 71,000 in the week ended November 20 to 199,000 from 270,000 the week prior, which was revised slightly up from the initially reported 268,000 claims. The November 20 claims were the lowest since November 15, 1969 when they were 197,000. The Action Economics Forecast Survey had expected 263,000 claims for the latest week. The 4-week moving average fell to 252,250 in the November 20 week from a revised 273,250 the week prior. The most recent four-week average set a new post-pandemic low since March 14, 2020 when the average was 225,500.

Initial claims for the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program in the week ended November 20 rose to 1,616 from 1,380 in the prior week. This program expired on September 4, explaining the 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 2.049 million in the week ended November 13, also a new pandemic-period low, from 2.109 million in the November 6 week; the November 6 number was revised from 2.080 million. 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 three 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 years.

In the week ended November 6, continued weeks claims in the Pandemic Assistance Program (PUA) program dropped to 334,750 from 791,060 the week prior. The number of continued weeks claims is 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) declined to 151,556 in the week ended November 6, down from 272,974 in the week ended October 30 and well below the 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 November 6 the total number of all state, federal, PUA and PEUC continued claims was 2.432 million, down from 3.185 million the prior week and 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. In the week ending November 6, the highest insured unemployment rates were the Virgin Islands (3.0%), Alaska (2.7%), the District of Columbia (2.7%), and Puerto Rico (2.7%), followed by California (2.6%) and New Jersey (2.5%). The lowest rates were South Dakota (0.2%), Alabama (0.3%) and Nebraska (0.3%). Other state insured rates of unemployment in regular programs included New York (1.8%), Pennsylvania (1.8%), Illinois (1.9%), Texas (1.0%), and Florida (0.7%). 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) 11/20/21 11/13/21 11/06/21 Y/Y % 2020 2019 2018
Initial Claims 199.0 270.0 269.0 -73.9 1,352.1 218.0 220.4
Initial Claims (NSA) 258.6 240.4 257.0 -68.8 1,352.7 217.6 220.9
Initial Claims Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (NSA) 1.6 1.4 1.9 -99.5 -- -- --
Continuing Claims -- 2,049.0 2,109.0 -66.6 10,379.7 1,699.0 1,754.2
Continuing Claims (NSA) -- 1,814.0 1,783.0 -69.3 10,369.7 1,703.6 1,763.2
Continuing Claims Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (NSA) -- -- 334.8 -96.5 -- -- --
Insured Unemployment Rate (%) -- 1.5 1.6

(Nov 2020)

7.1 1.2 1.2
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