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Economy in Brief

U.S. Initial Jobless Claims Continue Upward Climb
by Gerald D. Cohen  December 17, 2020

• State and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance initial claims rise for second consecutive week.

• PUA and PEUC continuing claims increase, state programs decline.

• Absent action, 14.0 million PUA and PEUC claimants will lose their benefits in January.

Seasonally adjusted state initial jobless claims for unemployment insurance increased to 885,000 in the week ending December 12 from a upwardly-revised 862,000 in the previous week (was 853,000). This is the highest level of claims since September 5. The Action Economics Forecast Survey anticipated 800,000 new state claims. A change in the calculation of seasonal adjustment factors created a break in the series in late August. Though the current comparison to early-September is valid, comparisons to before August 22 are not. Haver Analytics has calculated methodologically-consistent seasonally adjusted claims going back to 1979. This series matches the Department of Labor seasonally adjusted series since the change in methodology. For more details, please see the September 3 commentary on jobless claims.

Claims for the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which covers individuals such as the self-employed who are not qualified for regular/state unemployment insurance, rose to 455,037 from 415,037. This is the highest since September 19. Numbers for this and other federal programs are not seasonally adjusted.

Seasonally adjusted state continuing claims for unemployment insurance declined to 5.508 million in the week ending December 5, from 5.781 million. Continuing PUA claims, which are lagged an additional week and not seasonally adjusted, increased to 9.245 million from 8.556 million. Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) claims rose to a new high of 4.801 million in the week ending November 28. This program covers people who were unemployed before COVID but exhausted their state benefits and are now eligible to receive an additional 13 weeks of unemployment insurance, up to a total of 39 weeks. Funding for both PUA and PEUC programs is set to expire on December 26, which means that at current levels, 14.0 million people would lose their benefits in January.

The seasonally adjusted state insured rate of unemployment ticked down to 3.8% in the week ending December 5 from 3.9%. This data does not include the federal pandemic assistance programs. If you include the latest data available, which is lagged one additional week, the total number of state, PUA and PEUC continuing claims rose to 19.5 million or 12.2% of the labor force.

The state insured rates of unemployment – which do not include federal programs – continued to show wide variation with South Dakota at just 0.9% and California at 7.0%. The largest states ranged between 2.1% for Florida and the 7.0% noted above for California. The 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, carried in the AS1REPNA database.

Unemployment Insurance (SA, 000s) 12/12/20 12/05/20 11/28/20 Y/Y % 2019 2018 2017
Initial Claims 885 862 716 286 218 221 244
Initial Claims (NSA) 935 956 719 246 218 221 243
Initial Claims Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (NSA) 455 415 288 -- -- -- --
Continuing Claims -- 5,508 5,781 219 1,701 1,756 1,961
Continuing Claims (NSA) -- 5,493 5,805 218 1,704 1,763 1,964
Continuing Claims Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (SA) -- -- 9,245 -- -- -- --
Insured Unemployment Rate (%) -- 3.8 3.9

(Dec 2019)

1.2 1.2 1.4
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