Blogging on Employment and Job Markets in US Metro Areas

Initial and Continued Unemployment Claims

Initial unemployment claims for the week ending April 21 were 209,000. As many have noted, this is the lowest figure since December, 1969. This is a volatile series though, so I suggest focusing on the 4-week moving average, which was 229,250 for the week ending April 21. And while this is low, too, it was even lower a few weeks ago with the March 10 figure at 222,750. And that’s the lowest figure of the 4-week moving average since March, 1973.


While these figures show us that current levels of unemployment are very low, it is more striking to look at the 4-week moving average of initial claims as a percentage of the civilian labor force:


The current level of 0.14% is unprecedentedly low. Previous lows are:

Feb 2006: 0.19%
Apr 2000: 0.19%
Nov 1988: 0.24%
Mar 1973: 0.25%
May 1969: 0.23%

The initial unemployment claims number gets lots of press coverage, but it tells us about only one aspect of the job market. The Department of Labor simultaneously releases figures for continued unemployment claims. Here’s a chart showing both:


Here’s a chart showing the continued unemployment claims as a percentage of the civilian labor force:


As with initial claims, as a percentage of the civilian labor force, continued claims are unprecedentedly low with latest figure at 1.15%. Previous lows are:

May 2006: 1.57%
May 2000: 1.40%
Nov 1988: 1.61%
Apr 1973: 1.74%
Jun 1969: 1.24%

The above chart showing both initial and continued claims masks a divergence (that’s due to the scales of the left and right axes), though they do trend up and down together. When looking at the ratio of continued to initial claims, we can see that in times of low unemployment it has risen from below 6 for the end of the 1960s expansion to the current level of roughly 8.


And this confirms something we already know: that the duration of unemployment has been increasing.


Despite the employment gains of the current expansion, the average duration of unemployment is now roughly 24 weeks. While that’s down from the level of 40 weeks for late 2011, it is still longer than the worst levels of the 2000s and 1990s expansions (roughly 20 weeks for both).