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Economy in Brief

U.S. Initial Claims For Unemployment Insurance Plumb New Low
by Tom Moeller  March 3, 2011

Improvement in the job market continues. Initial claims for unemployment insurance fell to 368,000 last week from 388,000 during the week prior, initially reported as 391,000. Consensus expectations had been for 395,000 claims according to MMS International. Claims were the lowest since May 2008. The four-week moving average of claims fell to 388,500. During the last ten years there has been a 77% correlation between the level of claims and the m/m change in nonfarm payrolls.

Continuing claims for unemployment insurance also fell to the lowest since October 2008 and the insured unemployment rate fell to 3.0%. These claimants, however, were only about half of the total number of people currently receiving unemployment insurance. Regular extended benefits, with eligibility dependent on conditions in individual states, rose to 850,372 during the week ending February 12 (the latest figure available). A companion program, Emergency Unemployment Compensation, referred to as EUC 2008, saw a reduced 3.653M beneficiaries in the February 12 week (-35.7% y/y).

A grand total of all claimants for unemployment insurance includes extended and emergency programs and specialized programs covering recently discharged veterans, federal employees and those in state-run "workshare" programs. All together, during the February 12th week, the total number of these recipients inched up to 9.236M, off 19.9% y/y, but the latest level remained nearly the highest since August. We calculate a broader insured unemployment rate by taking this grand total as a percent of covered employment. The latest rate was 6.1%. It peaked at 9.3% on January 2, 2010.

Two other programs, disaster unemployment assistance (DUA) and trade readjustment allowance (TRA), are reported through a different Labor Department channel. Claimants were the lowest since June in late December. All of these individual program data are not seasonally adjusted.

Data on weekly unemployment insurance programs are contained in Haver's WEEKLY database, including the seasonal factor series, and they are summarized monthly in USECON. Data for individual states, including the unemployment rates that determine individual state eligibility for the extended benefits programs and specific "tiers" of the emergency program, are in REGIONW, a database of weekly data for states and various regional divisions. 

The Fed's latest Beige Book covering regional economic conditions is available here.

Unemployment Insurance (000s) 2/26/11 2/19/11 2/12/11 Y/Y % 2010 2009 2008
Initial Claims 368 388 413 -41.0 457 572 419
Continuing Claims -- 3,774 3,833 -19.9 4,545 5,809 3,340
Insured Unemployment Rate(%) -- 3.0 3.1 3.7
3.6 4.4 2.5
Total "All Programs" (NSA)* -- -- 9.236M -19.9 9.850M 9.163M 3.903M

*Excludes disaster unemployment assistance and trade readjustment allowance
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