Initial Jobless Claims Rise, But Continuing Claims Plunge Again

More mixed progress on the employment front, as initial jobless claims rose 11,000 to 444,000 for the week ending Jan. 9, the U.S. Labor Department announced Thursday. However, continuing claims plunged another 211,000 to 4.60 million -- their lowest total in a year.Economists surveyed by Bloomberg News had predicted initial jobless claims would total 437,000.

%%DynaPub-Enhancement class="enhancement contentType-HTML Content fragmentId-1 payloadId-61603 alignment-right size-small"%% Meanwhile, the four-week moving average for initial jobless claims fell 9,000 to 440,750 -- its lowest level since September 2008, before the financial crisis' acute stage.

A year ago, initial jobless claims totaled 535,000, continuing claims totaled 4.49 million, and the four-week moving average was at 523,750.

States reported 5.00 million persons claiming Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits for the week ending Dec. 26, the latest week for which data was available, a decrease of 141,279 from the prior week. A year ago, there were 1.67 million emergency benefits claimants.

Regarding jobless claims, economists view the four-week average as a better indicator of unemployment conditions, as it smooths out anomalies for strikes, holidays, or other idiosyncratic events. Economists also monitor the continuing claims stat because it provides a snapshot of how long it's going to take the typical person to find comparable employment after sustaining a job loss. In general, continuing claims above 3 million reflect a slack labor market, and point to extended job searches of six to nine months or longer.

The largest increases in initial jobless claims for the week ending Jan. 2, the latest week for which data is available, were in: New York, 22,810; North Carolina, 20,942; Georgia, 11,172; Wisconsin, 9,938; and Alabama, 5,478. The largest decreases were in: Illinois, -6,928; Florida, -6,523; Kansas, -3,701; Maryland, -2,309; and California, -2,284.

Also, the highest insured unemployment rates for the week ending Dec. 26, the latest week for which data was available, were in: Alaska, 7.4%; Oregon, 6.6%; Idaho, 6.2%; Wisconsin, 6.2%; Michigan, 5.9%; Montana, 5.7%; Nevada, 5.7%; North Carolina, 5.6%; Pennsylvania, 5.5%; and Washington state, 5.4%.

Economic Analysis

The key take away from this week's report is the continued, large decline -- 211,000 -- in continuing claims, to 4.60 million, and the nice 9,000 drop in the four-week moving average to 440,750. The 11,000-claim rise in initial jobless claims can be ignored, provided the yearlong downward trend resumes in subsequent weeks.

True, some of the reduction in continuing claims reflects individuals whose benefits have expired, but some of it also reflects jobs found -- another encouraging sign for the job market and the U.S. economy. Job growth is essential for a sustained U.S. economic expansion.

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