U.S. Jobless-Claims Details Highlight Less-Robust Part of Market
Pedestrians carrying umbrellas pass in front of the Empire State Building in New York, U.S. (Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg)

U.S. Jobless-Claims Details Highlight Less-Robust Part of Market

(Bloomberg) -- While relatively few Americans are filing for unemployment benefits, indicating health in the broad job market, the latest weekly figures potentially offer insight into a less-robust situation: the persistence of long-term unemployment.

The level of continuing claims, which reflects people who are unemployed and currently receiving benefits, rose in late December to the highest level since April 2018. The 75,000 jump in claims was the most in four years and brought the overall number to 1.803 million in the week ended Dec. 28.

U.S. Jobless-Claims Details Highlight Less-Robust Part of Market

Joseph Song, senior U.S. economist at Bank of America Corp., said the increase in continuing claims suggests people are receiving benefits for longer periods of time. Still, “until you see a persistent increase” in continuing claims, “I don’t think it says too much about the health of the labor market,” he said.

What Bloomberg’s Economists Say

“Continuing claims, a measure of ongoing unemployment, jumped due to large increases in jobless claims in prior weeks. This spike should fade away in the coming weeks, consistent with the overall trend in claims and continued, strong hiring momentum.”

-- Eliza Winger

The jobless rate is at a half-century low and vacancies outnumber the unemployed by more than 1 million. But the share of unemployed Americans out of work for 27 weeks or more -- or just over six months -- has remained at a higher level than any other expansion in data going back to the 1940s. When looking at the average and median durations that unemployed Americans are out of work, the picture looks largely the same.

U.S. Jobless-Claims Details Highlight Less-Robust Part of Market

It’s worth noting the latest data reflect the week which included the Christmas holiday, but even when looking at the unadjusted continuing claims -- or those that have not been adjusted by statisticians to remove the influences of seasonal patterns -- the 2019 weekly reading is higher than it was for the comparable period in 2018.

Initial jobless claims, or newly unemployed individuals seeking to receive benefits, dropped for a fourth straight week, the longest streak since April, in the week ended Jan. 4. Continuing claims are reported with a one-week lag compared to initial claims.

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