New weekly jobless claims unexpectedly rose by 13,000 to 861,000 in the week that ended February 13, the Department of Labor said Thursday.
Economists had expected claims to fall to 768,00 from the 793,000 initially reported for the prior week. The previous week’s figure was revised up by 55,000 to 848,000.
Jobless claims can be volatile week to week so economists like to look at the four-week average. This fell to 833,250, 3,500 below the prior week’s average.
Jobless claims—which are a proxy for layoffs—remain at extremely high levels. Prior to the pandemic, the highest level of claims was 695,000 hit in October of 1982. In March of 2009, at the depths of the financial crisis recession, jobless claims peaked at 665,000.
Even when the economy is creating a lot of demand for workers, many businesses will shed employees as they adjust to market conditions. But in a high-pressure labor market, those employees quickly find jobs and many never show up on the employment rolls. What appears to be happening now is that many workers who lose their jobs cannot quickly find replacement work and are forced to apply for benefits.
Claims hit a record 6.87 million for the week of March 27, more than ten times the previous record. Through spring and early summer, 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. Claims moved down again in September and had made slow, if steady, progress until the election.
Continuing claims, which get reported with a week’s lag, fell by 64,000 to 4,494,000.
There are two new programs offering unemployment benefits to people previously ineligible, such as self-employed workers or small business owners. The total number of continued weeks claimed for benefits in all programs for the week ending January 30 was 18,340,161, a decrease of 1,325,567 from the previous week.