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Weekly Jobless Claims Trend Downward After Recent Increases

  • New weekly jobless claims fall to a seasonally adjusted 712,000
  • Continuing claims and claims for one federal program drop, but claims for a federal emergency unemployment program continue to rise
  • Numbers do not yet reflect updated methodologies after Government Accountability Office says they are flawed

New weekly unemployment claims decreased for the week ending Nov. 28, following two weeks of increases. The dip was partially credited to a slowdown in claims during major holidays, but also reflects a continuing if slow recovery in the labor market.

A total of 712,000 new unemployment claims were filed during the week, down 75,000 from the previous week and just 1,000 higher than the previously recorded lowest point since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March. Economists have cautioned that Thanksgiving likely impacted the numbers, as people are less likely to file for unemployment around this holiday.

Continuing claims fell 569,000 for the week ending Nov. 21, with 5.5 million continuing to receive benefits. This drop reflects both a return of some unemployment recipients to work and people exhausting their state benefits, which typically last six months.

There were 288,701 claims for the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which assists self-employed workers and others typically not eligible for state benefits; this represented a drop of 30,000 compared to the last period. Claims for the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation continued to rise, climbing nearly 60,000 to total 4.57 million for the week ending Nov. 14.

A total of 20.16 million people remained on some sort of benefit, down, nearly 350,000 from the last period but well above the level of 1.57 million at the same time in 2019. An estimated 9.1 million people are set to lose their benefits when the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs expire at the end of the year.

However, the Government Accountability Office has also challenged the methodology that determines the unemployment numbers due to backlogs in state claims and other issues. No corrections have yet been made to address this issue.

Economists have generally agreed that the pandemic must be brought under control before economic stability can return. While positive news on vaccine developments has been welcomed by the markets, large-scale inoculations are unlikely to take place until the spring. The current surge of COVID-19 cases, averaging more than 160,000 a day, has prompted several states to impose new restrictions and lockdowns, putting further strain on businesses that have endured diminished revenues this year.

There has been some progress on a new economic stimulus bill, with Democratic leaders temporarily abandoning calls for greater spending and voicing their support for a $908 billion measure put forward as a bipartisan compromise. President-elect Joe Biden has also voiced his support for more immediate aid with the potential for further action after he takes office. However, Senate Majority Mitch McConnell continues to back a more limited $500 billion proposal which was shot down twice earlier in the year.

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