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Economy in Brief

U.S. Initial Unemployment Claims Rise Slightly
by Sandy Batten  August 26, 2021

• Initial claims edged up after outsized drop in previous week.

• Pandemic unemployment claims rise modestly for the fourth consecutive week.

• Continuing claims little changed.

Initial claims for unemployment insurance rose to 353,000 in the week ended August 21 after an outsized drop to 349,000 in the previous week (revised up slightly from 348,000). The four-week moving average decreased to 366,500, the lowest since before the pandemic, from 378,000 in the previous week. The Action Economics Forecast Survey consensus for the latest week was 353,000.

Initial claims for the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program rose to 117,709 in the week ended August 21, their fourth consecutive weekly increase and its highest weekly level since late April, from 108,081 in the previous week (revised from 109,379). The PUA program provides 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 claimed for regular state unemployment insurance in the week ended August 14 fell 3,000 to 2.862 million, the seventh weekly decline in the past eight weeks. In the August 14 week, the associated rate of insured unemployment remained at its pandemic low of 2.1%

Continued weeks claimed in the PUA program increased 104,706 in the week ended August 7 to 5.005 million. Continued weeks claimed for PEUC benefits fell 52,089 to 3.794 million, yet another new low since the week ended January 16, 2021. The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program covers people who have exhausted their state unemployment insurance benefits.

In the week ended August 7, the total number of all state, federal, PUA and PEUC continued claims was 12.008 million, up 182,165 from the week before. This is the only the second weekly increase in total continuing claims in the past fifteen weeks and is down markedly from the pandemic peak of 33.228 million reached in the week ended June 20, 2020. These figures are not seasonally adjusted.

The state insured rates of unemployment in regular programs continued to vary widely. In the week ending July 31, the highest insured unemployment rates were in New Jersey (3.73%), Illinois (3.72%), California (3.45%), Connecticut (3.09%) and New York (3.06%). The lowest rates were in South Dakota (0.37%), Utah (0.58%), Idaho (0.59%), Nebraska (0.63%) and North Dakota (0.66%). Insured unemployment rates in other large states included Pennsylvania (2.32), Texas (1.61%), Ohio (1.20%) and Florida (0.79%). 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) 08/21/21 08/14/21 08/07/21 Y/Y % 2020 2019 2018
Initial Claims 353 349 377 -59.5 1,352 218 220
Initial Claims (NSA) 298 309 323 -63.4 1,353 218 221
Initial Claims Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (NSA) 118 108 104 -80.1 -- -- --
Continuing Claims -- 2,862 2,865 -79.5 10,380 1,699 1,754
Continuing Claims (NSA) -- 2,763 2,808 -80.0 10,370 1,704 1,763
Continuing Claims Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (NSA) -- -- 5,005 -55.9 -- -- --
Insured Unemployment Rate (%) -- 2.1 2.1

(Aug 2020)

7.1 1.2 1.2
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