U.S. new weekly jobless claims unexpectedly rose last week even amid a wave of abating social distancing restrictions and improving weather.
The Department of Labor released its weekly report on new jobless claims on 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 March 13: 770,000 vs. 700,000 expected and an upwardly revised 725,000 during the prior week
Continuing claims, week ended March 6: 4.124 million vs. 4.034 million expected and 4.144 million during the prior week
Though initial unemployment claims held below 800,000 for a fourth consecutive week, they unexpectedly rose by 45,000, whereas consensus economists had anticipated new claims to fall to a fresh pandemic-era low of 700,000. Initial jobless claims remain well above the Great Recession-era high of 665,000 from 2009. And new claims still need to fall significantly further to return to 2019 levels, when new claims averaged just over 200,000 per week.
Still, the generally downward trend in new jobless claims over the past several months has pointed to an economy on the upswing, even as temporary factors like harsh winter weather generated some noise in the recent data. Trends in new jobless claims are expected to improve further into the spring and summer as the vaccine rollout continues and COVID-19 case counts retreat further. Just last week, President Joe Biden announced that he would direct states to make all citizens eligible for vaccinations by May 1, rapidly expanding the potential for the country to achieve herd immunity in the near-term.
"We expect jobless claims to continue to improve as the latest wave of the virus subsides and restrictions are lifted," Deutsche Bank economist Brett Ryan wrote in a note. "These data take on added significance as they correspond to the survey period for March employment, where we expect to see a notable pick up in hiring."
Continuing claims, which measure the total number of Americans still receiving state unemployment benefits, showed a ninth straight week of declines. These improvements have come both as a result of re-hirings, and as individuals unemployed for more than six months rolled off regular state programs and onto longer-term federal unemployment benefits.
As of late February, more than 18 million Americans were still claiming benefits across all programs — a level that remains historically elevated, but down significantly from the more than 30 million claimants reported just seven months earlier. The most recent data showed that more than 12 million Americans were on either Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) — the federal program offering benefits to gig workers and the self-employed who do not qualify for other programs — or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which offers additional weeks of federal benefits to those who have exhausted their state benefits.
Both the PUA and PEUC were extended from mid-March until Sept. 6, based on the latest $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package passed earlier this month.
States with high unemployment
While most states reported improvements in the number of new jobless claims last week, a handful of populous states posted notable increases. New weekly jobless claims rose by 21,000 in Texas on an unadjusted basis, while those in Illinois jumped by 17,000. Others saw new claims retreat after weeks of increases: Ohio, which has been contending with a recent stretch of fraud in claims filings, saw initial jobless claims fall by more than 14,000 last week.
Pennsylvania, Alaska and Nevada comprised the states with the top three highest insured unemployment rates, or ratios of those claiming unemployment benefits to the total size of the states' labor forces. Pennsylvania's insured unemployment rate was 6.1% for the week ended February 27 – the latest date for which state-level data is available – for a drop of just 0.1 percentage points from the prior week's level. The insured unemployment rates in Alaska and Nevada were 5.6% and 5.4%, respectively. That compared to a national insured unemployment rate of 2.9%.
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Emily McCormick is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @emily_mcck
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