Unemployment claims nationally fall again; claims in Washington were up, but not really.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported another drop in weekly unemployment claims.

In the week ending May 8, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 473,000, a decrease of 34,000 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 9,000 from 498,000 to 507,000. The 4-week moving average was 534,000, a decrease of 28,250 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 2,250 from 560,000 to 562,250.

The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 2.6 percent for the week ending May 1, a decrease of 0.1 percentage point from the previous week’s revised rate. The previous week’s rate was revised up by 0.1 from 2.6 to 2.7 percent.

That’s good. The Associated Press reports,

Thursday’s report from the Labor Department showed that applications declined 34,000 from a revised 507,000 a week earlier. The number of weekly jobless claims — a rough measure of the pace of layoffs — has fallen significantly from a peak of 900,000 in January.

Last week’s unemployment claims marked the lowest level since March of last year, when the viral pandemic erupted across the economy. The decline in applications is coinciding with a steadily improving economy. More Americans are venturing out to shop, travel, dine out and congregate at entertainment venues. The reopening has proceeded so fast that many businesses aren’t yet able to staff up as quickly as they would like.

In April, employers added 266,000 jobs, far fewer than expected. The surprisingly tepid gain raised concerns that businesses may find it hard to quickly add jobs as the economy keeps improving and that regaining pre-pandemic employment levels could take longer than hoped.

As usual, there’s a lot to unpack in the numbers, which paint of a picture of a still-struggling, choppily-recovering economy, uneven across sectors and regions.

In Washington, the state reported an initially surprising uptick in claims.

During the week of May 2 – May 8, there were 16,605 initial regular unemployment claims (up 58.0 percent from the prior week) and 436,114 total claims for all unemployment benefit categories (up 7.9 percent from the prior week) filed by Washingtonians, according to the Employment Security Department (ESD).  

Seattle Times business reporter Paul Roberts explains,

Jobless claims surged in Washington last week, but the uptick was driven largely by bookkeeping issues in the state’s unemployment system, not an increase in layoffs. 

Last week, Washingtonians filed 16,605 new, or initial, claims for unemployment benefits, up 58% from a week earlier. That sharp increase, which follows three weeks of steady declines, stems mainly from two technical issues in the way the state’s Employment Security Department counts jobless workers, state officials said. 

Part of the surge comes as Washingtonians who lost jobs early in the pandemic and have received 52 weeks of unemployment benefits are now required under state regulations to refile. A similar refiling spike occurred in early April.

Much of the rest of the surge reflects a bookkeeping change related to federal pandemic benefits that Congress created for workers who use up the 26 weeks of unemployment benefits available through state systems.

As much as we enjoy mining the data – who doesn’t? – there’s always a bit of noise to sort out.