02.05.2015 Policy Points

NC Unemployment Claims: Week Of 1/17/15

For the benefit week ending on January 17, 2015, North Carolinians filed some 5,065 initial claims for state unemployment insurance benefits and 43,419 claims for state-funded continuing benefits. Compared to the prior week, there were fewer initial claims and fewer continuing claims. These figures come from data released by the US Department of Labor.

Averaging new and continuing claims over a four-week period — a process that helps adjust for seasonal fluctuations and better illustrates trends — shows that an average of 6,723 initial claims were filed over the previous four weeks, along with an average of 43,228 continuing claims. Compared to the previous four-week period, the average number of initial claims was higher, and the average number of continuing claims was higher.

One year ago, the four-week average for initial claims stood at 8,126, and the four-week average of continuing claims equaled 75,262.

In recent months covered employment has increased and now exceeds the level recorded a year ago (3.94 million versus 3.86 million). Nevertheless, there are still fewer covered workers than there were in January 2008, which means that payrolls are smaller today than they were seven years ago.

The graph (below right) shows the changes  in unemployment insurance claims measured as a share of covered employment in North Carolina since the recession’s start in December 2007.untitled

Both new and continuing claims have peaked for this cycle, and the four-week averages of new and continuing claims have fallen considerably. The four-week average of initial claims, when measured as a share of covered employment, is near the lowest level recorded since early 2008, while the four-week average of continuing claims also is near the lowest level recorded since early 2008.

Note that the recent year-over-year declines in new and continuing claims are not necessarily indicative of an improving labor market. State legislation that took effect on July 1, 2013, made major changes to insurance eligibility criteria, and the more stringent criteria eliminate claims that would have been valid prior to July 1, 2013. Additionally, the legislation reduced the maximum number of weeks  of state-funded insurance for which a claimant is eligible — an action that reduces the number of continuing claims.

To place the numbers in context, consider how the four-week average of initial claims (6,723) was 17.3 percent lower than the figure recorded one year ago (8,126), while the average number of continuing claims was 41 percent lower (43,228 versus 73,262). Given the modest rate of job growth that has occurred in North Carolina over the past year, such large declines likely are products of changes to unemployment insurance laws rather than improvements in underlying economic conditions.

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