December 15, 2019

Hiring Has Not Picked Up: A Look at Unemployment Claims Stats

The number of newly laid-off workers seeking unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week, further evidence that the job market recovers at a very slow and bumpy pace. California, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, and even Georgia have experienced the highest recent increases in unemployment claims.

Wall Street economists had expected a small drop, but according to the Labor Department, initial claims for unemployment insurance actually rose by 36,000. An analyst from the Labor Department said that much of the increase is due to the administrative backlogs left over from the holiday season in the state agencies that process the claims.

Regardless of the ups and downs shown week to week, the economy is not consistently generating net increases in jobs. After adding only 4,000 jobs in November, which was the first increase in nearly two years, in December employers cut 85,000 jobs. Many economists say the four-week average of claims will need to fall to below 425,000 to signal that the economy is close to generating net job gains. Unfortunately, the four-week average rose for the first time since August to 448,250.

The number of people continuing to claim regular benefits dropped slightly to just under 4.6 million. However, this data does not include millions of people who have used up the regular 26 weeks of benefits customarily provided by states and are now receiving extended benefits for up to 73 additional weeks, which is paid for by the federal government. Over 5.9 million are receiving extended benefits in the week ended Jan. 2, which is an increase of more than 600,000 from the previous week.

These numbers demonstrate that even as layoffs are declining, hiring has not picked up, leaving people out of work for extended periods of time.

California has had the largest increase in claims, with 16,160. Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania and Georgia have the next largest increase. Oregon has had the biggest drop in claims, of 5,784, followed by Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan and Massachusetts.

There are positive forecasts out there as well. Because unemployment claims have been on a steady drop since last fall as companies cut fewer jobs, some economists hope that hiring will soon increase. Another report suggests that economic growth could pick up this spring.

Other economists, however, have been worrying that growth in the economy will stagnate this year as government support programs wind down and unemployment remains high.

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