Mixed Progress for Jobless Claims

Mixed Progress for Jobless Claims

Another mixed-progress week on the employment front, as initial jobless claims fell, but by a smaller-than-expected 8,000 to 470,000 for the week ending Jan. 23, the U.S. Labor Department announced Thursday. A Bloomberg News economists' survey had expected jobless claims to total 440,000. The more-telling, four-week moving average unexpectedly rose 9,500 to 456,250.

Also, continuing claims fell 57,000 to 4.6 million. A year ago, initial claims totaled 590,000, continuing claims totaled 4.67 million, and the four-week moving average was at 547,000.

States reported 5.35 million people claiming Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits for the week ending Jan. 9, the latest week for which data is available, a decrease of 304,067 from the prior week. EUC is a federal program that provides benefits to individuals who have exhausted regular state benefits. A year ago, 1.77 million Americans were EUC claimants.

Snapshot of the Future

Regarding jobless claims, economists view the four-week average as a better indicator of unemployment conditions because it smooths-out anomalies for strikes, holidays, or other idiosyncratic events.

Economists also monitor continuing claims because that stat provides a snapshot of how long it's going to take the typical person to find comparable employment once he or she has lost a job. In general, continuing claims above 3 million reflect a slack labor market and point to extended 6- to 9-month (or longer) job searches.

The largest increases in initial jobless claims for the week ending Jan. 16, the latest week for which data is available, were in California, 43,738; Florida, 2,345; West Virginia, 1,460; Iowa, 937; and Puerto Rico, 415. The largest decreases were in: Pennsylvania, -25,819; New York, -22,173; North Carolina, -17,265; Wisconsin, -13,614; and Georgia, -12,452.

Also, the highest insured unemployment rates for the week ending Jan. 9, the latest week for which data is available, were in Alaska, 7.4%; Oregon, 6.8%; Wisconsin, 6.6%; Idaho, 6.4%; Michigan, 6.4%; Montana, 6.0%; Pennsylvania, 6.0%; Nevada, 5.7%; Connecticut, 5.5%; North Carolina, 5.5% and Washington state, 5.5%.

A Problem to Be Watched

The key takeaways from this week's report are the unexpected rise in the four-week moving average, offset by the steady, impressive decline in continuing claims. The four-week moving average rise is a problem and has to be watched.

The calculation here argues that it will resume its decline in the weeks ahead. If it doesn't, that would be a sign of a renewed rise in layoffs -- a troubling sign for labor markets and the U.S. economy.

2:27 AM

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