As we enter the third month of the COVID-19 crisis, initial claims for unemployment insurance (UI) over the last nine weeks total 39 million, exceeding the 37 million total claims made over the entire 18 months of the Great Recession. Initial claims remain elevated in the millions despite eight weeks of slowing claims, which is well above any pre-crisis records.
Initial claims for UI fell to 2.4 million on a seasonally-adjusted basis, according to the latest figures from the Department of Labor for the week ending May 16, 2020. On a non-seasonally-adjusted basis, 2.2 million initial claims were filed last week, bringing their total up to 35 million, just shy of the 37 million total from the Great Recession. Claims for the week of May 9 were revised down substantially to 2.69 million from 2.98 million, following a data entry error for Connecticut in last week’s report.
Notably, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claims also climbed to 2.23 million on a non-seasonally-adjusted basis, exceeding the number of initial UI claims for the first time since the crisis began, as the new program reaches workers previously ineligible for UI.
This week’s report contains the reference period (May 12) for the May jobs report scheduled to be released on June 5. The insured unemployment rate rose to 16 percent last week, which is useful context, despite not being directly comparable to the jobs report’s unemployment rate. The UI claims reported over the last four weeks indicate that the unemployment rate in the May jobs report will likely rise from 14.7 percent into the high teens, if not breach the 20 percent threshold. While recent indicators show the initial steep job declines are slowing, the labor market remains in a deep hole it will have to climb out of.
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