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Economy in Brief

U.S. Unemployment Insurance Claims Continue to Fall
by Sandy Batten  May 27, 2021

• Initial state claims fall to yet another pandemic low.

• State claims approaching range in which they have fluctuated during more normal times.

• PUA claims also fell.

Initial claims for unemployment insurance fell 38,000 in the week ended May 22 to 406,000 from an unrevised 444,000 in the previous week. The Action Economics Forecast Survey panel expected 436,000 new claims. The latest week's figure represents still another new low since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. While the most recent reading for claims remains well above levels reached immediately before the pandemic, the level of claims is approaching the 300,000-400,000 range in which claims have fluctuated during previous economic expansions. The 4-week moving average was 458,750 in the week ended May 22, down from 504,750 in the previous and also a pandemic low.

Initial claims for the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program fell to 93,546 in the week ended May 22 from 95,142 the previous week. The most recent figure is the lowest since just after the program began in April 2020. The PUA program provides benefits to individuals, such as the self-employed, who are not eligible for regular state unemployment insurance benefits. Given the brief history of this program, these and other COVID-related series are not seasonally adjusted.

Continuing claims for regular state unemployment insurance edged down to 3.642 million in the week ended May 15 from 3.738 in the previous week. The state insured rate of unemployment ticked down 0.1%-point to 2.6%. It reached 15.9% in May 2020, while the average rate in 2018 and 2019 was 1.2%.

Continuing PUA claims were 6.516 million in the week ended May 8, down from 6.606 million in the previous week. By contrast, in the May 8 week, the number receiving Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) edged up 49,000 to 5.192 million. This program covers people who have exhausted their state benefits.

The total number of all state, federal, and PUA and PEUC continuing claims was 15.802 million in the May 8 week, a 175,255 decline from the previous week. This was the lowest reading since just after the pandemic-related programs began in early April 2020. This grand total is not seasonally adjusted.

The state insured rates of unemployment in regular programs continued to vary widely. In the week ending May 8, the highest insured unemployment rates were in Nevada (5.72%), Rhode Island (4.52%), Connecticut (4.50%), Alaska (4.32%), Pennsylvania (3.92%) and New York (3.92%). The lowest rates were in South Dakota (0.62%), Kansas (0.69%), Nebraska (0.79%), Utah (0.90%), Alabama (0.93%) and North Dakota (0.97%). Insured unemployment rates in other large states included California (3.86%), Texas (1.91%) and Florida (1.54%). 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, carried in the AS1REPNA database.

Unemployment Insurance (SA, 000s) 05/22/21 05/15/21 05/08/21 Y/Y % 2020 2019 2018
Initial Claims 406 444 478 -78.5 1,352 218 220
Initial Claims (NSA) 420 455 492 -77.9 1,353 218 221
Initial Claims Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (NSA) 94 95 104 -93.1 -- -- --
Continuing Claims -- 3,642 3,738 -81.0 10,380 1,699 1,754
Continuing Claims (NSA) -- 3,521 3,671 -81.5 10,370 1,704 1,763
Continuing Claims Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (NSA) -- -- 6,516 -- -- -- --
Insured Unemployment Rate (%) -- 2.6 2.7

13.9
(May 2020)

7.1 1.2 1.2
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