By Robert Hughes

Initial claims for regular state unemployment insurance totaled 712,000 for the week ending November 28, down 75,000 from the previous week’s revised tally of 787,000. The drop in weekly claims in state programs follows two increases that drove the four-week average to its first increase since July (see first chart). The current four-week average was 739,500, down 11,250 from the prior average. The latest week is the 37th week of historically massive claims. Prior to the lockdowns, initial claims averaged 212,000 over the first 10 weeks of 2020. Persistent initial claims at such a historically high level remain a troubling sign for the labor market recovery and the economy.

The number of ongoing claims for state unemployment programs totaled 5.890 million for the week ending November 14, down 147,538 from the prior week. For the same week in 2019, ongoing claims were 1.542 million. Continuing claims from state programs have trended lower since the peak in early March. Over the same period, continuing claims in all federal programs have trended higher through late August but have since leveled off and are trending flat, coming in at 14.273 million for the week ending November 14. Since the beginning of September, claims in all Federal programs have averaged 14.142 million (see second chart).

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The total number of people claiming benefits in all unemployment programs including all emergency programs was 20.163 million for the week ended November 14, down 349,633 from the prior week. While there has been improvement from the catastrophic results in March and April, the current levels of weekly initial claims and continuing claims in all programs are still very high.

With new cases of COVID-19 rising again, renewed restrictions on businesses and consumers are emerging, threatening the economic recovery. It is quite possible that initial claims may start to rise again in coming weeks and months.

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