Weekly claims once again hover around 450,000 with the 4-week moving average rising a bit to 456,500 for months.

Weekly Claims Report

Please consider the Unemployment Weekly Claims Report for May 22, 2010.

In the week ending May 22, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 460,000, a decrease of 14,000 from the previous week’s revised figure of 474,000. The 4-week moving average was 456,500, an increase of 2,250 from the previous week’s revised average of 454,250.

Unemployment Claims

The weekly claims numbers are volatile so it’s best to focus on the trend in the 4-week moving average.

4-Week Moving Average of Initial Claims

The 4-week moving average is still near the peak results of the last two recessions. It’s important to note those are raw numbers, not population adjusted. Nonetheless, the numbers do indicate broad weakness.

4-Week Moving Average of Initial Claims Since 2007

To be consistent with an economy adding jobs coming out of a recession, the number of claims needs to fall to the 400,000 level.

At some point employers will be as lean as they can get (and still stay in business). Yet, that does not mean businesses are about to go on a big hiring boom. Indeed, unless consumer spending picks up, they won’t.

Since December of 2009 the 4-week moving average of weekly claims has bounced around between 440,00 and 480,000 spending most of the time near 450,000.

Progress has hugely decelerated, at best. Stalled is a better word as the following chart shows.

4-Week Moving Average of Initial Claims Since October 2009

Since mid-December 2009 improvements in weekly claim numbers has essentially stalled.

Questions on the Weekly Claims vs. the Unemployment Rate

A question keeps popping up in emails: “How can we lose 400,000+ jobs a week and yet have the unemployment rate stay flat and the monthly jobs report show gains?”

The answer is the economy is very dynamic. People change jobs all the time. Note that from 1975 forward, the number of claims was generally above 300,000 a week, yet some months the economy added well over 250,000 jobs.

Also note that the monthly published unemployment rate is from a household survey, not a survey of payroll data from businesses. That is why the monthly “establishment survey” (a sampling of actual payroll data) is not always in alignment with changes in the unemployment rate. At economic turns the discrepancy can be wide.

Barring short term census effects, it may be quite some time before we weekly claims drop to 300,000 or net hiring exceeds +250,000.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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