Initial Claims for Unemployment Benefits Are Trending Flat at a High Level

Initial claims for regular state unemployment insurance totaled 787,000 for the week ending December 26, down 3,000 from the previous week’s upwardly revised tally of 790,000 (see first chart). Claims have been in the 700,000 to 1 million range for 19 consecutive weeks after hitting a peak of 6.9 million in March. The four-week average was 818,750, down 18,750 from the prior average.  The four-week average has been between 740,000 and 840,000 for 14 consecutive weeks. Prior to the lockdowns, initial claims averaged 212,000 over the first 10 weeks of 2020. Persistent initial claims at such a historically high level remain a threat for the labor market recovery and the economy (see first chart).

The number of ongoing claims for state unemployment programs totaled 5.206 million for the week ending December 19, down 188,079 from the prior week. State programs have been trending lower since early March, but the downward trend has slowed noticeably in recent weeks (see second chart). For the same week in 2019, ongoing claims were 1.774 million.

Continuing claims in all federal programs also fell in the latest week, coming in at 13.971 million for the week ending December 19, down 231,149. Since the beginning of September, claims in all Federal programs have averaged 14.209 million (see second chart).

The total number of people claiming benefits in all unemployment programs including all emergency programs was 19.177 million for the week ended December 19, down 419,228 from the prior week. Continuing claims in Federal and state programs are about the same level as in mid-November.

Renewed government restrictions on consumers and businesses amid resurging Covid-19 cases pose a significant threat to the outlook for economic growth. The longer the virus surge continues, consumers remain restricted, and businesses remain closed or limited, the more uncertain a labor market recovery becomes and the higher the probability of a slow and drawn-out economic recovery.

* This article was originally published here

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