Weekly Initial Claims for Unemployment Benefits Rise Slightly but Remain Very Low

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Initial claims for regular state unemployment insurance rose to 222,000 for the week ending November 27, an increase of 28,000 from the previous week’s revised multidecade low of 194,000 (see first chart). Despite the rise, claims remain close to the pre-pandemic average level of 212,000 for January and February 2020 (see first chart).

The current four-week average fell for an eighth consecutive week, coming in at 238,750, the lowest level of the recovery. The results suggest the labor market remains extremely tight.

The number of ongoing claims for state unemployment programs totaled 1.824 million for the week ending November 13, a gain of 45,754 from the prior week. Over the last three weeks, the cumulative change in state continuing claims is just -54,378, or -2.9 percent. Before the pandemic, state continuing claims were just over 2 million (see second chart).

Continuing claims in all federal programs totaled just 482,536 for the week ending November 13, a decrease of 24,190 (see second chart). The drop was concentrated in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program where claims fell 19,943. A loss of another 5,107 was from the Pandemic Emergency UC program.

The latest results for the combined Federal and state programs put the total number of people claiming benefits in all unemployment programs, including all emergency programs, at 2.306 million for the week ended November 13, a rise of 21,564 from the prior week (see second chart).

Initial claims rose slightly in the latest week after hitting the lowest level in more than 50 years in the prior week. Despite the rise, the low level of claims suggests the labor market remains tight. Continuing labor shortages, along with materials shortages and logistical issues, are likely to continue to hamper production across the economy, sustaining upward pressure on prices. Eventually, supply will rise to meet demand but in the interim, price pressures are likely to remain elevated. Furthermore, the Omicron variant has the potential to worsen production constraints.