Unemployment Insurance claims show unexpected rise

By Siri Bulusu

The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly increased last week, although underlying trends continue to suggest a strengthening labor marker.

For the week ending March 3, the U.S. Department of Labor said Thursday, initial unemployment insurance claims rose by 6,000 to 278,000, surpassing consensus expectations of Bloomberg analysts who anticipated the figure to land at 272,000.

Seasonally Adjusted US Weekly UI Claims (in thousands)

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The unemployment insurance claims index is an indicator of the strength of the U.S. jobs market. (Siri Bulusu/MEDILL)

The 4-week moving average of claims, a figure which removes week-to-week volatility, fell 1,750 to 270,250 in the past week, indicating a positive trend in the job market despite the slight uptick in unemployment claims last week.

“It looks like the trend in initial claims has improved over the past month, signaling that the labor market continues to improve despite weakness in several other recent economic reports,” said Daniel Silver, an analyst at JP Morgan Chase.

Claims have remained below 300,000 for 52 consecutive weeks, according to the DOL, signaling a healthy labor market.

Professor Robert Kaestner, of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Institute of Government and Public Affairs, said that the labor market is healthy because the economy is still on a rebound since the recession in 2008.

“When people are claiming unemployment insurance they are not dropping out of the labor market,” Kaester said.

He speculates that some unemployment claims could come from people who feel optimistic about the job market and are looking to change jobs, in addition to those who have lost jobs.

“Unemployment insurance is bridge between jobs,” Kaestner said. “It can be a very useful bridge for them.”

Illinois ranked among the highest insured unemployment rates in the week ending February 13 at 2.8 percent. The state ranking highest was Alaska at 4.7 percent.

Continuing claims, or the number of U.S. citizens covered by unemployment insurance and currently receiving benefits, during the week ending Feb. 20 rose 3,000 to 2.26 million. The four-week average of the same week fell 750 to 2.26 million.

Unemployment insurance claims unexpectedly ticked higher last week. (Bytemarks/FLICKR)