U.S. Jobless Claims Hit Highest Since August in Unexpected Jump

Initial jobless claims in regular state programs totaled 898,000 in the week ended Oct. 10, up 53,000 from the prior week.
U.S. Jobless Claims Hit Highest Since August in Unexpected Jump
A job seeker fills out a form (Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

Applications for U.S. state unemployment benefits unexpectedly jumped last week to the highest since August and Americans increasingly moved to longer-term jobless aid.

Both are troubling signs for a labor market whose recovery from the pandemic was already slowing.

Initial jobless claims in regular state programs totaled 898,000 in the week ended Oct. 10, up 53,000 from the prior week, Labor Department data showed Thursday. On an unadjusted basis, the figure posted the largest one-week increase since July.

U.S. Jobless Claims Hit Highest Since August in Unexpected Jump

Continuing claims -- or total Americans claiming ongoing unemployment assistance in those programs -- fell 1.17 million to 10 million in the week ended Oct. 3.

But that may partially reflect people exhausting state aid and moving to Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, the federal program that provides up to 13 additional weeks of jobless benefits. The PEUC figure rose by 818,054 to 2.78 million in the week ended Sept. 26, on an unadjusted basis.

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Initial claims rose in more than half of U.S. states, pointing to broad-based headwinds for the labor market and the economy as virus cases pick up again and colder weather starts to curb demand for outdoor dining. The report may also reflect tens of thousands of recent job cuts at the nation’s airlines.​

The numbers highlight the risk that October figures will show a decline in payrolls following September’s 661,000 gain that was the slowest of the pandemic recovery.

“I think we’ve seen the labor market recovery stall out,” said Sarah House, senior economist at Wells Fargo & Co. Given that jobless claims can be volatile even in normal times, it’s not yet certain that the jobs rebound is reversing, “but I think we’ve seen a heightened risk of the labor market really backsliding,” she said.

U.S. stocks fell at the open on Thursday. Yields on 10-year Treasuries were lower, while the dollar was higher.

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Like in the prior two reports, California’s initial claims number remained frozen at the mid-September level despite the ending of its two-week pause in accepting new claims. A spokesperson for the Labor Department said the data will continue to reuse the prior number until California’s reporting normalizes in the wake of the pause.

Even without updated numbers from the most populous state, the latest report painted a troubling picture of possibly rising joblessness across the nation. Initial claims jumped in states including Indiana, Illinois, Massachusetts, Georgia and Washington.

What Bloomberg’s Economists Say

“The trend in initial claims, excluding California, has clearly stalled. ... The recovery in the labor market will continue to slow down as the economy and the job market cannot operate at full capacity until a vaccine is widely available.”

-- Eliza Winger

Read more for the full note.

For the extended PEUC aid, whose figures come with a two-week lag, claims surged in many states and particularly in California, New York, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

That suggests the next jobs report will show further increases in long-term unemployment; the September figures showed 781,000 people joined the ranks of those who have been jobless for 27 weeks or longer, the biggest monthly increase on record. Most states offer 26 weeks of benefits.

Congress Stalemate

The supplemental $600 a week in jobless benefits authorized by the CARES Act in late March expired in July, and since then lawmakers have been at a stalemate over another large stimulus bill. Funds have been drying up in a stopgap benefits program authorized by President Donald Trump, and the extended PEUC aid will expire at the end of December unless Congress acts.

However, with less than three weeks until the Nov. 3 presidential election, an agreement is increasingly in doubt, adding risks that declining income will weigh on consumer spending.

“As we see more and more people shift to the ranks of the long-term unemployed, it suggests that this is not going to be nearly as quick of a downturn and that there is going to be long-term damage that results from what otherwise looks like a pretty short recession,” said House of Wells Fargo.

On a more positive note, two other regional reports Thursday from the Federal Reserve showed manufacturing is sustaining its recent momentum into the fourth quarter.

For the latest week, initial state claims were expected to total 825,000 and continuing claims to fall to 10.6 million, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists.

Separate from the headline number, initial applications for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or the federal program that provides jobless benefits to those not typically eligible like the self-employed, totaled 372,891 in the week ended Oct. 10, a decrease from the prior week. In total, 11.2 million were claiming benefits through the program in the week ended Sept. 26. California’s data were frozen in both figures.

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