U.S. Weekly Jobless Claims Fall to 1.5 Million, 10th Week of Declining Claims

New claims for unemployment benefits fell to 1,542,000 last week, data from the Department of Labor showed Thursday.

This is the eleventh consecutive week of initial claims above 1 million. Prior to March, initial claims had never risen as high as 700,000.

Economists had forecast 1.565 million claims. Last week’s claims were revised up slightly to 1.897 million from 1.877 million.

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

Continuing claims for unemployment benefits during the week ending May 30 fell 339,000 to 20,929,000. The previous week’s level was revised down by 219,000 from 21,487,000 to 21,268,000. These are reported with a one-week lag.

The decline in continuing claims indicates that some of those who have lost their jobs have found new jobs or been rehired as states have lifted orders forcing businesses to close. The government reported last week that the unemployment rate declined and the economy actually added 2.5 million jobs in May, beginning to claw back some of the 22 million jobs lost in March and April.

Claims may have been elevated by the rioting, looting, and violence that accompanied the protests over the alleged killing of George Floyd. Some businesses were completely destroyed in the rioting, many more were looted and vandalized, and some were forced to close by the threat of violence.

The highest rates of continuing claims, which the government calls the insured unemployment rate, in the week ending May 23 were in Maine (26.9), Nevada (24.3), Michigan (21.7), Hawaii (20.1), Puerto Rico (19.0), New York (18.7), Pennsylvania (17.5), Georgia (17.2), Massachusetts (16.8), and Rhode Island (16.6).

The largest increases in initial claims for the week ending May 30 were in Florida, California, Oklahoma, and Mississippi, while the largest decreases were in New York, Michigan, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

The federal government has been chipping in an extra $600 a week to state unemployment benefits, making the program 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.

In addition to claims for regular unemployment benefits, the government now offers two new forms of unemployment benefits to business owners, self-employed, gig-workers, and independent contractors who would not ordinarily qualify for unemployment benefits. During the week ending May 23, 42 states reported 9,715,948 individuals claiming Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits and 32 states reported 518,942 individuals claiming Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits.

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