Unemployment Claims Fall to Lowest Level Since January
Initial jobless claims measures the number of individuals who filed for unemployment insurance for the first time during the past week. In the week ending September 16, initial jobless claims fell to their lowest level since January. Seasonally adjusted initial jobless claims were at 201,000, a decrease of 20,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 221,000. The latest reading was below the forecast of 225,000.
Here is the opening statement from the Department of Labor:
In the week ending September 16, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 201,000, a decrease of 20,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 1,000 from 220,000 to 221,000. The 4-week moving average was 217,000, a decrease of 7,750 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 250 from 224,500 to 224,750.
The chart below is a snapshot of weekly initial unemployment insurance claims for this year.
Here is a closer look at the series since 2007, with a callout to the past 12 months. The four-week moving average, which gives a clearer sense of the overall trend, is currently at 217,000. This is an decrease of 7,750 from the previous week's figure and the lowest level since mid-February.
As we can see, there's a good bit of volatility in this indicator, which is why the four-week moving average is a more useful number than the weekly data. Here is the complete data series dating back to 1967.
Outside of the COVID spike, initial unemployment claims have never been greater than 700,000 for a given week. With that said, we've adjusted the y-axis on the chart below so that we can get a zoomed in view of the series where the COVID spike isn't as prominent.
Notice the relationship between recessions and the rise in weekly unemployment claims. The 4-week moving average begins to rise at or before the start of a recession and reaches a relative peak at the end of a recession.
The headline unemployment insurance data is seasonally adjusted, as are the charts above. What does the non-seasonally adjusted data look like? See the chart below, which clearly shows the extreme volatility of the non-adjusted data (the green dots). The four-week MA gives an indication of the recurring pattern of seasonal change (note, for example, those regular January spikes).
Because of the extreme volatility of the non-adjusted weekly data, we can add a 52-week moving average to give a better sense of the secular trends. The chart below also has a linear regression through the data (red line), which we are currently below.
For an analysis of unemployment claims as a percent of the labor force, see this regularly updated piece The Civilian Labor Force, Unemployment Claims and the Business Cycle. Here is a snapshot from that analysis.
This article was originally written by Doug Short. From 2016-2022, it was improved upon and updated by Jill Mislinski. Starting in January 2023, AP Charts pages will be maintained by Jennifer Nash at VettaFi | Advisor Perspectives
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