Average Weekly Initial Claims Rise Again

Initial claims for regular state unemployment insurance rose 4,000 for the week ending July 2nd, coming in at 235,000. The previous week’s 231,000 was unrevised from the initial tally (see first chart). By long-term historical comparison, initial claims remain very low.

However, the four-week average rose for the twelfth time in the last thirteen weeks (the four-week average was unchanged in one week), coming in at 232,500, up 750 from the prior week and at the highest level since February 19th. Weekly initial claims data continue to suggest a very tight labor market, though the recent upward trend is a growing concern. Sustained elevated rates of price increases, an intensifying Fed tightening cycle, and fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine represent risks to the economic outlook.

The number of ongoing claims for state unemployment programs totaled 1.299 million for the week ending June 18th, a rise of 12,535 from the prior week (see second chart). State continuing claims have now risen in five of the last six weeks and are at the highest level since April 30th, though the level remains very low by longer-term comparison (see second chart).

The latest results for the combined Federal and state programs put the total number of people claiming benefits in all unemployment programs at 1.328 million for the week ended June 18th, an increase of 13,570 from the prior week. The latest result is the highest since April 30th but is the nineteenth week in a row below 2 million.

Initial claims remain at a very low level by historical comparison, but recent weeks have seen an upward trend become more apparent. Weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance is an AIER leading indicator, and if the trend continues on an upward trajectory, it may be an early warning sign. Furthermore, the number of open jobs in the country has receded for two consecutive months, though the level remains very high by historical comparison.

While the overall low level of claims combined with the high number of open jobs suggest the labor market remains very tight, both measures are showing signs of softening. The tight labor market is a crucial component of the economy, providing support for consumer spending. However, persistently elevated rates of price increases are already weighing on consumer attitudes, and if consumers lose confidence in the tight labor market, they may significantly reduce spending. The outlook remains highly uncertain.

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