National unemployment claims filings fall to new pandemic low; slight increase in Washington state claims.

Overall good news in unemployment insurance claims trends. Nationally, new claims reached a pandemic-era low. Further, slthough the state Employment Security Department reports that initial UI claims increased this week, the increase was modest. Week-to-week fluctuations are expected. The ESD reports,

During the week of August 29 to September 4, there were 5,205 initial regular unemployment claims, up 2.6 percent from the prior week. Total claims filed by Washingtonians for all unemployment benefit categories numbered 257,702, down 5.6 percent from the prior week.  

  • Initial regular claims applications are 74 percent below weekly new claims applications for the same period last year during the pandemic.
  • The 4-week moving average for regular initial claims was 5,291, a decrease of 54 from the previous week’s 4-week moving average. During the same time in 2019, it was 4,918.
  • Increases in layoffs in health care and social assistance and construction contributed to an increase of 132 regular initial claims over the previous week.
  • There was a decrease in the combined total of initial claims and continued or ongoing claims for all benefits—which include regular unemployment insurance, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC).
  • Federal pandemic benefits programs, including PUA and PEUC as well as the additional $300 per week, expired the week ending Sept. 4, 2021.

That last bullet point is important. We’ll see what effect it has on worker re-entry into the labor market.

Nationally, the U.S. Department of Labor reports,

In the week ending September 4, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 310,000, a decrease of 35,000 from the previous week’s revised level. This is the lowest level for initial claims since March 14, 2020 when it was 256,000. The previous week’s level was revised up by 5,000 from 340,000 to 345,000. The 4-week moving average was 339,500, a decrease of 16,750 from the previous week’s revised average. This is the lowest level for this average since March 14, 2020 when it was 225,500. The previous week’s average was revised up by 1,250 from 355,000 to 356,250.

The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 2.0 percent for the week ending August 28, unchanged from the previous week’s unrevised rate.

The Associate Press report includes these comments,

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve reported that U.S. economic activity “downshifted” in July and August, in part because of a pullback in dining out, travel and tourism related to concerns about the delta variant.

Still, the ongoing drop in applications for unemployment aid — six declines in the past seven weeks — indicates that most companies are holding onto their workers despite the slowdown. That trend should help sustain the economic rebound through the current wave of infections.

The pace of hiring, though, has weakened — at least for now. Last week, the government reported that hiring slowed dramatically in August, with employers adding just 235,000 jobs after having added roughly a million in both June and July. Hiring plummeted in industries that require face-to-face contact with the public, notably restaurants, hotels and retail. Still, some jobs were added in other areas, and the unemployment rate actually dropped to 5.2% from 5.4%.

“While the August jobs report showed employers may have hit the pause button on hiring amid renewed concerns about the pandemic, the claims data suggest a reluctance to lay off workers amid a record number of job openings,” said Nancy Vanden Houten, an economist at the consulting firm Oxford Economics.

There are clear risks ahead, but overall, the recovery continues.