Jobless claims: New weekly filings reached a pandemic-era low of 360,000

·4 min read

New weekly jobless claims fell to the lowest level since March 2020, closing back in on pre-pandemic levels as the rate of new joblessness slowed further. 

The Department of Labor released its weekly report on new jobless claims Thursday at 8:30 a.m. ET. Here were the main metrics from the report, compared to consensus data compiled by Bloomberg:

  • Initial jobless claims, week ended July 10: 360,000 vs. 350,000 expected and a revised 386,000 during prior week 

  • Continuing claims, week ended July 3: 3.241 million vs. 3.300 million expected and a revised 3.367 million during prior week

Initial unemployment claims extended a months-long downward trend and came in below the psychologically important 400,000 level for a third straight week. During the comparable week in mid-July last year, new filings totaled 1.5 million.

Continuing jobless claims also improved to the lowest level since March 2020. 

The weekly jobless claims numbers help capture the pace of those rendered newly unemployed. However, labor supply shortages have become the primary concern in returning the job market to its pre-pandemic conditions. The National Federation of Independent Business said that a historically elevated 46% of small business owners reported job openings that could not be filled in June, and that a record high of 39% of owners reported raising compensation in order to attract workers. In the Labor Department's latest June jobs report, the labor force participation rate stayed flat even as payroll gains handily exceeded estimates, reflecting an elevated number of workers still yet to reenter the workforce. 

And according to the government's Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary, the layoffs and discharge rate hit an all-time low of 0.9% in May, further underscoring that the labor market's latest strains have been for lack of supply, not demand. 

"It bears a reminder that the U.S. economy is booming with growth, or GDP, soaring. While welcome, this is not without a downside. The reopening of the economy has created unprecedented strains, including strong demand for workers," Mark Hamrick, senior economist and analyst at Bankrate, said in an email on Wednesday. "One doesn’t have to travel very far to find businesses visibly understaffed, some of which are opting to reduce operating hours or output as a less optimal way of adjusting to the worker shortage."

A multitude of factors seen as inhibiting labor supplies are expected to ease by the fall, however, with schools set to reopen to alleviate child care concerns, more vaccinations taking place to help lessen lingering COVID-19 concerns, and enhanced unemployment benefits expiring across states. How quickly these factors drive an increase in labor force participation, however, remains to be seen, and has given monetary policymakers reason to wait and see the incoming data before removing some of their supportive policies for the recovering economy. 

"The issue for markets and the Fed ... is that it is not possible to know if these shortages will persist once enhanced unemployment benefits stop in early September — earlier in most Republican-led states — and pressure on child care eases with the full reopening of facilities and schools in the fall," Ian Shepherdson, chief economist of Pantheon Macroeconomics, said in a note. "The current situation in the labor market has no precedent, and hence no basis exists for taking a strong position on what will happen next."

"Fortunately, the flexibility of the new monetary policy strategy gives policymakers wide latitude to wait until the underlying labor market position emerges from beneath the COVID distortions," he added.

State-by-state unemployment 

A handful of states posted notable declines in new jobless claims, helping to offset increases in other areas. Initial filings in Georgia were down by 6,000 on an unadjusted basis, while those in Rhode Island and Puerto Rico each fell by more than 4,000. 

On the other hand, however, new weekly filings in the populous states of New York and Texas each rose by more than 7,500 last week. Still, the margin of increase in these states has come down precipitously from their pandemic-era highs. 

In terms of insured unemployment rates, or proportion of the state still claiming unemployment benefits to total to total state population, the states and territories of Puerto Rico, Nevada, and Georgia posted the highest levels. Puerto Rico's was the highest in the U.S. at 4.8%, followed by Nevada and Georgia at 4.3% and 4.2%, respectively, for the week ended June 26. Still, these rates have also dropped sharply compared to their COVID peaks of well over 20%. 

The national insured unemployment rate totaled 2.4% for the week ended June 26. 

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Emily McCormick is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @emily_mcck

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