Jobless Claims Rise by 206,000 After Falling to 52-Year Low

As COVID worries continue to arise, the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits continues to fall to pre-pandemic levels. It is another sign that the job market is recovering from last year’s sharp coronavirus downturn.

December 16, 2021 – The Labor Department reported that 206,000 Americans have filed new claims for state unemployment benefits, an increase of 18,000 from the previous week’s revised level. The previous week’s level was revised up by 4,000 from 184,000 to 188,000. The four-week moving average was 203,750, a decrease of 16,000 from the previous week’s revised average. This is the lowest level for this average since November 15, 1969 when it was 202,750. The previous week’s average was revised up by 1,000 from 218,750 to 219,750.

“If we filled every single job opening that’s out there right now, we’d have employment that was not just well above where we were pre-pandemic, but well above what anyone predicted pre-pandemic,” Betsey Stevenson, former Labor Department chief economist and professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan, told Yahoo Finance Live.

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“That recovery and employers wanting to hire workers is there,” she added. “The challenge is that we still have just a lot of uncertainty going on in the labor market. A lot of what economists talk about is churn — people who are exiting jobs more frequently than they used to, exiting the labor market more frequently than they used to.”

“Overall, the data continue to signal a downtrend in layoffs on strong demand for labor amid a labor shortage,” said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics.

“A correction next week seems likely, but the trend in claims clearly is falling rapidly, reflecting the extreme tightness of the labor market and the rebound in GDP growth now underway,” wrote Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. “It’s very risky for firms to let go staff unless they have no other choice, because re-hiring people later will be difficult and likely expensive.”

Unemployment Numbers

The Labor Department recently reported that employment rose by 210,000 in November as the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 4.2 percent. This is well below the half-million gain that had been expected. The number of unemployed persons fell by 542,000 to 6.9 million. Notable job gains occurred in professional and business services, transportation and warehousing, construction, and manufacturing. Employment in retail trade declined over the month. Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (4.0 percent), adult women (4.0 percent), Whites (3.7 percent), Blacks (6.7 percent), and Hispanics (5.2 percent) declined in November. The jobless rates for teenagers (11.2 percent) and Asians (3.8 percent)showed little change over the month.

“We’re continuing to see a surge in job postings, record low unemployment rates and historically high levels of workers changing jobs and careers,” said Karen Fichuk, CEO, Randstad North America and Randstad N.V. executive board member. “Together these trends are creating new opportunities for workers, as smart employers cater to workers who have come to expect a better work-life balance, higher salaries, and more flexibility. At the same time, the rise of the Omicron variant will renew employee concerns about health and safety measures and threaten to pump the brakes on the current acceleration of the job market.”

Massive government aid and the rollout of vaccines helped revive the economy and the job market by giving Americans the confidence and savings to go on a shopping spree, often online, for goods such as lawn furniture and coffee makers. Since April last year, the United States has regained nearly 18.5 million jobs. But the economy is still 3.9 million jobs short of where it stood in February 2020, and COVID variants like omicron pose a risk to the recovery, according to the Associated Press.

During the week, 39 states reported 194,189 continued weekly claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits and 40 states reported 136,413 continued claims for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits. The highest insured unemployment rates in the week were in Alaska (3.2), California (2.9), the Virgin Islands (2.7), District of Columbia (2.6), Puerto Rico (2.6), New Jersey (2.5), Hawaii (2.3), Illinois (2.2), Minnesota (2.2), and Georgia (2.1). The largest increases in initial claims were in Texas (+8,639), New York (+8,523), California (+8,487), Michigan (+4,182), and Illinois (+3,390), while the largest decreases were in Virginia (-3,096) and North Carolina (-1,718).

Related: Skills Gap Points to Why We Need to Invest in People

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media


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