The number of first-time filers for unemployment benefits fell last week by 9,000 to 840,000.
Claims have come in between 800,000 and 900,000 for the six consecutive weeks, a sign that progress in the labor market has stalled somewhat amid closed schools, delayed reopenings, and the reimposition of restrictions in some parts of the economy. The latest figure shows that claims continue to be stuck at this high level.
Economists had expected between 825,000, so Thursday’s number counts as worse than expected.
The previous week had been initially reported as 837,000. It was revised up by 12,000 to 849,000. If not for the upward revision, jobless claims would have increased this month.
Claims hit a record 6.87 million for the week of March 27. Until a month ago, each subsequent week had seen claims decline. But in late July, the labor market appeared to stall and claims hovered around one million throughout August, a level so high it was never recorded before the pandemic struck.
Now it appears they have once again stalled, although the latest data does show a bit more progress than expected. Jobless claims have hovered just between 900,000 and 800,000 since the last week in August.
The 4-week moving average, which may be a more reliable measure of the health of the jobs market because it smoothes out week-to-week volatility, was 857,000, which is 13,250 below the previous week’s revised average. The previous week’s average was revised up by 3,000 from 870,250.
Continuing claims, which get reported with a week’s lag, came in at 10,976,000, a decrease of 1,003,000 from the previous week’s revised level.
The decline in continuing claims may be a silver lining in the report. It indicates that those who have lost their jobs are finding new work. It’s likely that the decline in the level of federal enhancement to unemployment benefits, from $600 per week to $300, has encouraged some workers to seek jobs.
The highest insured unemployment rates are in Hawaii, California, and Nevada.
Jobless claims are a proxy for layoffs and have been closely watched as a signal for how the pandemic is influencing the economy. Prior to the pandemic, weekly jobless claims had been running around 200,000.