Apr 7, 2022 - Economy

Amazing number: Fewest jobless claims in 54 years

Data: Department of Labor; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Department of Labor; Chart: Axios Visuals

Every week since January 1967, the Labor Department has published the number of Americans who filed a new claim for unemployment insurance benefits during the preceding week. That's 2,882 weeks in all.

  • Last week's total released Thursday, showing 166,000 new claims, was lower than all but one of those weeks.

Why it matters: The claims numbers are just the latest sign of an exceptionally tight U.S. labor market. Companies are not firing people if they can help it, and workers who do lose their jobs are finding new ones rapidly.

  • It comes exactly two years after the number of claims reached an all-time peak, with 6.1 million people filing for benefits the first week of April 2020, as the pandemic set in.

By the numbers: The record-holder for lowest weekly claims remains the week ending November 30, 1968, with 162,000 new jobless claims.

  • The 166,000 claims last week is seasonally adjusted using new techniques to account for the distortions caused by the pandemic two years ago. The unadjusted number of claims is higher, at 193,000 last week, though that is still low by any historical standard.
  • The four-week moving average of new claims also fell, which strips out some volatility of the weekly numbers, fell to 170,000. Continuing claims ticked up to 1.523 million, from 1.516 million.

Worth noting: The labor force is about twice as large as it was in the late 1960s, making the current low claims numbers that much more impressive.

State of play: This is an exceptionally tight U.S. job market, no two ways about it. The unemployment rate was 3.6% in March — and has been lower than that in only two months in the last 50 years.

  • Against that backdrop, it is hardly surprising that employers are trying their best to hang on to the workers they have.
  • That said, the labor force remains smaller than it was before the pandemic, so there could still be room for improvement as more potential workers return from the sidelines.

The bottom line: Any way you slice it, this is a moment in which workers are in the driver's seat of the job market.

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