Weekly Unemployment Claims At 382,000: Much Worse Than Expected

Includes: DIA, IVV, SDS, SH, SPY, VOO
by: Doug Short

The Unemployment Insurance Weekly Claims Report was released this morning for last week. The 382,000 new claims number was a 15,000 increase from the previous week's upward revision of 2,000. The less volatile and closely watched four-week moving average rose to 375,000. Here is the official statement from the Department of Labor:

In the week ending September 8, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 382,000, an increase of 15,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 367,000. The 4-week moving average was 375,000, an increase of 3,250 from the previous week's revised average of 371,750.

The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 2.6 percent for the week ending September 1, unchanged from the prior week's unrevised rate. The advance number for seasonally adjusted insured unemployment during the week ending September 1 was 3,283,000, a decrease of 49,000 from the preceding week's revised level of 3,332,000. The 4-week moving average was 3,316,500, a decrease of 7,500 from the preceding week's revised average of 3,324,000.

Today's seasonally adjusted number was above the Briefing.com consensus estimate of 369K. Briefing.com's own forecast was for 370K.

Here is a close look at the data since 2006 (with a callout for 2012), which gives a clearer sense of the overall trend in relation to the last recession and the trend in recent weeks.

As we can see, there's a good bit of volatility in this indicator, which is why the 4-week moving average (the highlighted number) is a more useful number than the weekly data.

Occasionally I see articles critical of seasonal adjustment, especially when the non-adjusted number better suits the author's bias. But a comparison of these two charts clearly shows extreme volatility of the non-adjusted data, and the 4-week MA gives an indication of the recurring pattern of seasonal change in the second chart (note, for example, those regular January spikes).

Because of the extreme volatility of the non-adjusted weekly data, a 52-week moving average gives a better sense of the long-term trends. This metric has now fallen below 400,000 for the first time since late November 2008. I've now added a linear regression through the data. We can see that this metric has started to slip below the long-term trend stretching back to 1968.

For a broader view of unemployment, see the latest update in my monthly series Unemployment and the Market Since 1948.

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