Unemployment Insurance Claims Rise

Week ending Jan. 15, 2022, saw most initial claims since October 2021

Initial claims for unemployment insurance across the U.S. were 286,000 for the week ending Jan. 15, 2022, on a seasonally adjusted basis. This represented an increase of 55,000 (23.8%) from the revised figure for the prior week. It also was 27.1% higher than the estimate of 225,000 compiled by Dow Jones, as well as the highest figure since the week ending Oct. 16, 2021.

The four-week moving average for initial claims rose to 231,000, up by 20,000 (9.5%) from the prior week's figure. In December 2021, initial claims had dipped to 188,000, their lowest level in more than 50 years.

Key Takeaways

  • Initial claims for unemployment insurance in the week ending Jan. 15, 2022, were the highest since October 2021, on a seasonally adjusted basis.
  • Continuing claims also rose, but the four-week moving average for continuing claims dipped to its lowest level since April 2019.
  • The omicron variant of COVID-19 may be a factor driving new claims.

Impact of Omicron

"Omicron has put a wrench in where we stand on the labor market front, but with hiring challenges, employers are likely trying to hold onto their workforce," as Mike Loewengart, managing director of investment strategy at E*TRADE, told CNBC. "So this could be a short-term surge in jobless claims," he added.

Mixed Picture on Continuing Claims

Unemployment insurance continuing claims also recorded an increase, although compilation of this data lags new claims by one week. For the week ending Jan. 8, 2022, the number of continuing claims, also called the number of insured unemployed persons, was 1,635,000, an increase of 84,000 (5.4%) from the prior week, on a seasonally adjusted basis.

However, the four-week moving average for continuing claims fell by 55,250 (3.2%) from the prior week to 1,664,250. This was the lowest four-week moving average since the week ending April 27, 2019. Given that the moving average is designed to eliminate random volatility in the weekly figures, this paints a more optimistic picture about the current state of the labor market.

Adjusted vs. Unadjusted Data

The seasonally adjusted nationwide initial claims figure of 286,000 cited above for the week ending Jan. 15, 2022, was derived from an unadjusted figure of 337,417. The unadjusted figure actually dipped by 83,418 (19.8%) from 420,835 in the prior week. However, the normal seasonal factors observed at this time of year should have led to a decrease of 138,773 (33.0%) from the prior week to 282,062 in the week ending Jan. 15, 2022, all else equal.

Initial Jobless Claims by State

Most states reported declines in new claims, led by 14,011 fewer unadjusted initial claims in New York and 7,489 fewer in Missouri. The two biggest increases in unadjusted initial claims were 6,075 in California and 450 in Rhode Island.

However, the U.S. Department of Labor cautions that the breakdown by state for the week ending Jan. 15, 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 Jan. 15, 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 on Jan. 8, 2022. The largest increases in initial claims for that week, compared to the week before that, were in California (+11,295), New York (+10,639), Texas (+10,437), Kentucky (+8,476), and Missouri (+7,768), while the largest decreases were in Massachusetts (-2,079), Connecticut (-1,437), Michigan (-1,158), New Hampshire (-424), and Rhode Island (-424). 

Highest Insured Unemployment Rates

Meanwhile, the highest insured unemployment rates for the week ending Jan. 1, 2022, were in Alaska (3.1%), Minnesota (2.8%), Kentucky (2.7%), New Jersey (2.6%), New York (2.6%), Rhode Island (2.5%), California (2.4%), Connecticut (2.4%), Massachusetts (2.3%), and Oregon (2.3%). The insured unemployment rate is the ratio of persons receiving unemployment benefits to the total number of persons in the labor force.

Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Department of Labor. "News Release: Unemployment Weekly Claims, Jan. 20, 2022," Pages 1-2.

  2. CNBC. "Jobless Claims Jump to 286,000, the Highest Level Since October."

  3. U.S. Department of Labor. "News Release: Unemployment Weekly Claims, Jan. 20, 2022," Pages 3-5.

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

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