Initial Claims Fall to the Lowest Level of the Pandemic

Initial claims for regular state unemployment insurance totaled 684,000 for the week ending March 20, down 97,000 from the previous week’s tally of 781,000 (see first chart). The latest week is the lowest of the pandemic and provides additional evidence of the improving trend for the economy as government lockdowns are removed.

The four-week average fell 34,000 to 736,000, the seventh weekly decline in a row and also the lowest level of the pandemic. However, the four-week average remains in the 700,000 to 900,000 range. The combination of vaccine distribution and easing government restrictions on consumers and businesses is likely to lead to lower claims in the coming weeks and months as the economy returns to normal operation. However, significant damage has been done by the lockdowns and full recovery is likely several quarters away.

The number of ongoing claims for state unemployment programs totaled 4.459 million for the week ending March 6, down 89,000 from the prior week. Continuing claims for state programs remain in the 4 to 6 million range but have been very slowly trending lower over the past several weeks (see second chart). For the same week in 2019, ongoing claims were 1.974 million.

Continuing claims in all federal programs rose sharply in the latest week, coming in at 14.494 million for the week ending March 6, a rise of 822,862 (see second chart). Since the beginning of June 2020, continuing claims in all Federal programs have been in the 12 to 16 million range, averaging 14.064 million.

The total number of people claiming benefits in all unemployment programs including all emergency programs was 18.953 million for the week ended March 6, up 733,862 from the prior week. Total claims have been in the 16 to 20 million range since November (see second chart).

This article was first published by the AIER, and can be found here.


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