Jobless Claims Fall to 1.88 Million, Slightly More Than Expected

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - MAY 22: A waiter picks up his order in the kitchen during dinner at Galatoire's Restaurant on May 22, 2020 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The City of New Orleans, which has suffered over 2,500 deaths due to the COVID-19 pandemic, began allowing restaurants to reopen at …
Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

New claims for unemployment benefits fell to 1.88 million last week, data from the Department of Labor showed Thursday.

That brings new unemployment claims, a proxy for layoffs, since the coronavirus pandemic began to claim jobs ten weeks ago to nearly 42 million.

Economists had been expecting around 1.79 million for weekly claims. The prior week was revised up by 3,000 to 2,126,000.

Claims hit a record 6.87 million for the week of March 27. Each subsequent week has seen claims decline from the week earlier.

Continuing claims, those made after the initial two weeks of unemployment, rose for the week ended May 23 by 649,000 to just over 21,487,000. The prior period’s continuing claims was revised down 214,000 from 21,052,000 to 20,838,000. Ongoing claims reported with a lag of one additional week. The somewhat stable figure suggests that some who lost their jobs have been rehired or found new work, so that new claims are not just piling on top of older claims. Still the rise in claims is disappointing, as many forecasters had been looking for this to decline as states and cities move to reopen their economies.

The federal government has been providing extra $600 a week on top of state unemployment benefits, making the aid to the unemployed much more generous. Many workers can now earn more on unemployment than they did when they had a job. These super-sized benefits, however, are set to run out in July.

The government said the U.S. unemployment rate soared to 14.7 percent in April, the highest since the Great Depression. That figure is likely to rise when May’s data is reported on Friday, with the consensus forecast coming in at 19.8 percent.

In addition to claims for regular unemployment benefits, the government now offers Pandeemic Unemployment Assistance to business owners, self-employed, gig-workers, and independent contractors who would not ordinarily qualify for unemployment benefits. During the week ending May 16, 35 states reported 10,740,918 individuals claiming benefits from this program.

The largest increases in initial claims for the week ending May 23 were in Maine (+11,941), Oklahoma (+10,274), Michigan (+7,859), Kentucky (+6,417), and Oregon (+4,913).  The largest decreases were in Washington (-90,683), Florida (-49,993), California (-41,169), New York (-34,875), and Illinois (-14,517).

The highest insured unemployment rates in the week ending May 16 were in Nevada (24.9), Maine (22.9), Michigan (22.9), Puerto Rico (22.7), Hawaii (20.6), New York (19.2), Rhode Island (18.6), Washington (17.7), Louisiana (17.4), and New Hampshire (16.8).

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