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First-Time Jobless Claims Edge Up; Trend Stays Positive

First-time claims for unemployment insurance increased 2,000 to 336,000 for the week ending March 16--the first increase in a month--the ""Labor Department"":http://www.ows.doleta.gov/press/2013/032113.asp reported Thursday. Economists expected claims to rise to 340,000. Initial jobless claims for the week ending March 9 were revised up to 334,000 from the initially reported 332,000.


The slight increase in first-time claims was driven largely by seasonal adjustment factors and as such masks the sharp improvement in the jobs market. Non-seasonally adjusted claims for the week ending March 16 fell below 300,000 for the first time since October 2007.

Meanwhile, the number of continuing claims for the week ending March 9, reported on a one week lag, rose 5,000 to 3,053,000. Continuing claims for the week ending March 2 were revised up to 3,048,000 from the originally reported 3,024,000.

The four-week moving average of first time claims fell 7,500 to 339,750, the lowest level since February 2008. The moving average, which smooths the volatility in the weekly report, has fallen for four straight weeks.

The four-week moving average of continuing claims also fell, dropping 28,000 to 3,076,250, the lowest level since June 2008.

The continuing claims data series tracks the number of longer-term unemployed who qualify for regular state jobless benefits and often shows large movements, depending on first-time claims 26 weeks earlier and legislative changes to state unemployment programs. It is subject to wider revisions than the number of first-time claimants.

Initial unemployment claims have fallen for eight of the first 11 weeks of the year, averaging just under 350,000 the number most economists see as the tipping point between a strengthening and weakening jobs market. During the same period last year, initial unemployment insurance claims averaged about 370,000. The last time first-time filings for jobless benefits began a year averaging under 350,000 was 2008.

The report on initial claims covered the same week used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for its monthly Employment Situation report. That report will be released next on April 5. From mid-February through mid-March, first-time unemployment insurance claims fell 30,000, and the four-week moving average fell 22,000, suggesting layoffs will not be a drag on the employment situation report.

The unemployment rate, always a key measure of economic health, has taken on added significant since the Federal Open Market Committee said it’s looking for a sustained unemployment rate of .5 percent or lower before changing interest rates or other actions to stimulate the economy.

The total number of people claiming benefits in all programs for the week ending March 2 was 5,369,007, a decrease of 250,853 from the previous week. There were 7,284,741 persons claiming benefits in all programs in the comparable week in 2012. Extended benefits were available only in Alaska during the week ending March 2.

According to the BLS, 12,032,000 persons were officially considered unemployed in February, which means that of those individuals counted as unemployed, 6.67 million were not receiving any form of government unemployment insurance, up from 6.63 million one week earlier.

The Labor Department said states reported 1,780,843 persons claiming EUC (Emergency Unemployment Compensation) benefits for the week ending March 2, a decrease of 136,315 from the prior week.

States continue to borrow from the federal government to cover shortfalls in those funds which will eventually have to be repaid--unless Congress intervenes--with higher assessments on employers. Since those assessments are a percentage of payrolls, they discourage employers from adding new workers. As of March 19, 23 states had borrowed a total of $29.7 billion. One week earlier, 23 states had an aggregate $29.3 billion in outstanding loans to cover shortfalls. Five states--California, Indiana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Ohio--owe more than $1 billion, which may require higher unemployment premiums or special assessments on employers in those states.

According to the Labor Department detail, also reported on a one-week lag, the largest increases in initial claims for the week ending March 9 were in Georgia (+1,678), Florida (+802), Pennsylvania (+801), Ohio (+741), and Texas (+640), while the largest decreases were in New York (-7,248), California (-6,189), Illinois (-1,172), Kansas (-1,098), and Alabama (-1,083).

_Hear Mark Lieberman Friday on P.O.T.U.S. radio, Sirius-XM 124, at 6:20 a.m. and again at 9:20 a.m. Eastern time._

About Author: Mark Lieberman

Mark Lieberman is the former Senior Economist at Fox Business Network. He is now Managing Director and Senior Economist at Economics Analytics Research. He can be heard each Friday on The Morning Briefing on POTUS on Sirius-XM Radio 124.

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