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Economy in Brief

U.S. Unemployment Insurance Jump, Likely a Reflection of Omicron
by Sandy Batten  January 13, 2022

• Initial claims jumped up 23,000 to 207,000, the highest reading since November 13.

• This likely reflected the impact of the surge in Omicron Covid cases.

• Continued claims in regular state programs fell 194,000 to 1.56 million, the lowest reading since 1973.

• The insured unemployment rate fell to a record low 1.1%.

Initial claims for unemployment insurance increased 23,000 in the week ended January 8 to a seasonally adjusted 230,000 (-74.6% y/y) from an unrevised 207,000 in the prior week. This was most likely a reflection of the impact of the tremendous rise in new Covid cases. The Action Economics Forecast Survey expected 205,000 claims for the latest week. Still, unemployment insurance claims remain quite low historically. In the year prior to the March 2020 lockdown, weekly initial unemployment claims averaged 216,000. The 4-week moving average rose to 210,750 from 204,500 in the previous week.

Initial claims for the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which expired on September 6, 2020, are no longer included in this report. This program provided benefits to individuals who were not eligible for regular state unemployment insurance benefits, such as the self-employed.

In the week ended January 1, seasonally adjusted continued weeks claimed for regular state unemployment insurance plunged 194,000 to 1.559 million. This was the lowest reading since April 1973. The insured unemployment rate fell to 1.1%, the lowest on record dating back to 1971, from 1.3% in the previous week.

Continued claims for both the PUA program and for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (a program for those unemployed who had exhausted their state benefits) are no longer included in this report as both programs have expired.

In the week ended December 25, the not seasonally adjusted total number of continuing weeks claimed in all programs rose to 1.949 million from 1.722 million in the previous week.

The state insured rates of unemployment in regular programs vary widely. In the week ending December 25, the highest insured unemployment rates were in Alaska (3.22%), Minnesota (2.60%), California (2.49%), New Jersey (2.42%), New York (2.35%) and Illinois (2.31%). The lowest rates were in Virginia (0.32%), Alabama (0.34%), North Carolina (0.42%), Kansas (0.45%) and Arizona (0.46%). Other state insured rates of unemployment in regular programs included Pennsylvania (1.62%), Ohio (0.96%), Texas (0.97%), and Florida (0.53%). 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) 01/08/22 01/01/22 12/25/21 Y/Y % 2021 2020 2019
Initial Claims 230.0 207.0 200.0 -74.6 473.3 1,352.1 218.0
Initial Claims (NSA) 419.4 315.8 257.9 -61.3 473.0 1,352.7 217.6
Continuing Claims -- 1,559.0 1,753.0 -70.2 3,260.9 10,379.7 1,699.0
Continuing Claims (NSA) -- 2,057.0 1,870.0 -64.3 3,259.7 10,369.7 1,703.6
Insured Unemployment Rate (%) -- 1.1 1.3

(Jan 2021)

2.3 7.1 1.2
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