Continuing Unemployment Insurance Claims Fall to Lowest Level Since 1970

New jobless claims in week ending Feb. 19, 2022, fall by 6.8% from prior week

Initial claims for unemployment insurance across the U.S. were 232,000 for the week ending Feb. 19, 2022, on a seasonally adjusted basis. This represented a decline of 17,000 (6.8%) from the revised figure for the prior week. This was the fourth decline in the past five weeks. It also was 1.3% below the estimate of 235,000, per economists polled by Dow Jones.

The four-week moving average for initial claims fell to 236,250, down by 7,250 (3.0%) from the revised figure for the prior week. In December 2021, initial claims had fallen to 188,000.

Key Takeaways

  • Initial claims for unemployment insurance in the week ending Feb. 19, 2022, fell by 6.8% from the prior week.
  • Initial claims were 1.3% lower than economists' estimates.
  • Continuing claims were down by 7.1%, falling to their lowest level since 1970.

But Employment Far Below Pre-Pandemic Level

Despite the recent downtrend in initial unemployment insurance claims, which has sent the number of insured unemployed persons to the lowest level since March 14, 1970 (see next section), total employment is about 1.7 million persons below its pre-pandemic level recorded in February 2020. However, the unemployment rate has fallen from a pandemic peak of 14.7% to about 4% recently.

Meanwhile, the revised figure for U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) in the fourth quarter of 2021 indicates that it expanded at an annualized pace of 7.0%, up from an earlier estimate of 6.9%. This puts the full-year growth rate for 2021 at 5.7%, the most robust expansion since 1984.

Continuing Claims Decrease

Unemployment insurance continuing claims fell, although compilation of this data lags new claims by one week. For the week ending Feb. 12, 2022, the number of continuing claims, also called the number of insured unemployed persons, was 1,476,000, a decrease of 112,000 (7.1%) from the revised number for the prior week, on a seasonally adjusted basis. This is the lowest level for insured unemployment since March 14, 1970, when it was 1,456,000.

The four-week moving average for continuing claims fell by 49,000 (3.0%) from the revised figure for the prior week to 1,576,000. This is the lowest level for this average since June 30, 1973, when it was 1,570,000. The previous week's moving average had been revised downward by 1,250 (0.08%), from 1,626,250 to 1,625,000.

Adjusted vs. Unadjusted Data

The seasonally adjusted nationwide initial claims figure of 232,000 cited above for the week ending Feb. 19, 2022, was derived from an unadjusted figure of 214,873. The unadjusted figure fell by 24,824 (10.4%) from 239,697 in the prior week. However, the normal seasonal factors observed at this time of year should have led to a decline of 7,928 (3.3%) from the prior week to 231,769 in the week ending Feb. 19, 2022, all else equal. During the comparable week in 2021, there were 716,559 initial claims.

Initial Jobless Claims by State

Most states reported declines in new claims, led by 6,946 fewer unadjusted initial claims in Missouri, 2,990 fewer in New York, 2,319 fewer in Ohio, and 2,018 fewer in Tennessee. The largest increases in unadjusted initial claims were 3,554 in Michigan, 629 in Kansas, and 454 in Utah. Note that the statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Labor also include the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, in addition to the 50 states. As indicated above, total unadjusted new claims fell by 24,824 during the week ending Feb. 19, 2022.

However, the U.S. Department of Labor cautions that the breakdown by state for the week ending Feb. 19, 2022, contains what are called advance claims. These advance claims are reported by the state liable for paying the unemployment compensation. However, data for previous weeks classify claimants by state of residence. Thus, the state-by-state figures for the week ending Feb. 19, 2022, and the prior week are not completely comparable.

For comparable figures, the Department of Labor instead looks at the data for a week earlier, which ended Feb. 12, 2022. The largest increases in initial claims for that week, compared to the week before that, were in Missouri (+7,253), Ohio (+5,392), Kentucky (+4,555), Tennessee (+1,737), and Illinois (+1,488), while the largest decreases were in Pennsylvania (-1,688), California (-1,618), Wisconsin (-1,034), New Jersey (-941), and Connecticut (-747).

Highest Insured Unemployment Rates

Meanwhile, the highest insured unemployment rates for the week ending Feb. 5, 2022, were in California (2.7%), Alaska (2.6%), Illinois (2.5%), Minnesota (2.5%), New Jersey (2.5%), Rhode Island (2.4%), the Virgin Islands (2.4%), Massachusetts (2.3%), New York (2.3%), and Montana (2.0%). The advance seasonally adjusted national figure for the week ending Feb. 12, 2022, was 1.1%, unchanged from the revised figure for the prior week. The insured unemployment rate is the ratio of persons receiving unemployment benefits to the total number of persons in the labor force.

During the week ending Feb. 5, 2022, extended unemployment benefits were available in New Jersey and New Mexico.

Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Department of Labor. "News Release: Unemployment Weekly Claims, Feb. 24, 2022," Pages 1-2.

  2. CNBC. "Jobless Claims Total 232,000, Slightly Less Than Expected; Q4 GDP Revised Up to 7%."

  3. MarketWatch. "U.S. Unemployment Claims Drop 23,000 to 238,000 as Omicron Wave Relents."

  4. U.S. Department of Labor. "News Release: Unemployment Weekly Claims, Feb. 24, 2022," Pages 3-5.

  5. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. "Labor Market Slack and the Insured Unemployment Rate."

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