U.S. weekly jobless claims drop to 49-year low

by Ike Obudulu Last updated on April 11th, 2019,

Washington: Filings for U.S. unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell, dropping to the lowest since December 1969, as the labor market tightened further.

Jobless claims decreased to 202,000 in the week ended March 30, below all economist forecasts, Labor Department figures showed Thursday. The four-week average, a less-volatile measure, declined to 213,500, the lowest since October.

The surprising drop in claims is an indication that the labor market continued to tighten, with employers holding onto workers and loathe to let them go. The level of continuing claims, which had moved up in recent months, fell the most since November in the week ended March 23.

At the same time, the ADP Research Institute said this week that firms added the fewest workers in March since 2017, potentially signaling some weakness.

A consensus survey of economists had forecast a gain of 215,000

Continuing claims, which are reported with a one-week lag, fell by 38,000 to 1.717 million in the week ended March 23.

The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits held at 1.2 percent. The level has been unchanged since May.

The previous week’s claims were revised up to 212,000 from 211,000.

On Friday, the Labor Department is scheduled to release its highly anticipated report on the employment situation in the month of March.

Employment is expected to jump by 180,000 jobs in March after inching up by just 20,000 jobs in February, while the unemployment rate is expected to hold at 3.8 percent.

Why Markets Care About Unemployment Insurance Weekly Claims

Unemployment Insurance Weekly Claims – also called  Jobless Claims or Initial Claims – measures the number of individuals who filed for unemployment insurance for the first time during the past week.

Unemployment Insurance Weekly Claims is the nation’s earliest economic data. The market impact fluctuates from week to week – there tends to be more focus on the release when traders need to diagnose recent developments, or when the reading is at extremes.

The usual effect is that if ‘Actual’ is less than ‘Forecast’, it is good for the dollar and vice versa.

Markets care because although it’s generally viewed as a lagging indicator, the number of unemployed people is an important signal of overall economic health since consumer spending is highly correlated with labor-market conditions. Unemployment is also a major consideration for those steering the country’s monetary policy.

Initial Claims

An initial claim is a claim filed by an unemployed individual after a separation from an employer. The claimant requests a determination of basic eligibility for the UI program. When an initial claim is filed with a state, certain programmatic activities take place and these result in activity counts including the count of initial claims. The count of U.S. initial claims for unemployment insurance is a leading economic indicator because it is an indication of emerging labor market conditions in the country. However, these are weekly administrative data which are difficult to seasonally adjust, making the series subject to some volatility.

Continued Weeks Claimed

A person who has already filed an initial claim and who has experienced a week of unemployment then files a continued claim to claim benefits for that week of unemployment. Continued claims are also referred to as insured unemployment. The count of U.S. continued weeks claimed is also a good indicator of labor market conditions.

Continued claims reflect the current number of insured unemployed workers filing for UI benefits in the nation. While continued claims are not a leading indicator (they roughly coincide with economic cycles at their peaks and lag at cycle troughs), they provide confirming evidence of the direction of the U.S. economy

Seasonal Adjustments and Annual Revisions

Over the course of a year, the weekly changes in the levels of initial claims and continued claims undergo regularly occurring fluctuations. These fluctuations may result from seasonal changes in weather, major holidays, the opening and closing of schools, or other similar events. Because these seasonal events follow a more or less regular pattern each year, their influence on the level of a series can be tempered by adjusting for regular seasonal variation. These adjustments make trend and cycle developments easier to spot. At the beginning of each calendar year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics provides the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) with a set of seasonal factors to apply to the unadjusted data during that year. Concurrent with the implementation and release of the new seasonal factors, ETA incorporates revisions to the UI claims historical series caused by updates to the unadjusted data.

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