For the benefit week ending on February 21, 2015, North Carolinians filed some 4,463 initial claims for state unemployment insurance benefits and 39,929 claims for state-funded continuing benefits. Compared to the prior week, there were more 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 4,616 initial claims were filed over the previous four weeks, along with an average of 41,192 continuing claims. Compared to the previous four-week period, the average number of initial claims was lower, and the average number of continuing claims was lower.
One year ago, the four-week average for initial claims stood at 5,562, and the four-week average of continuing claims equaled 71,672.
In recent months covered employment has increased and now exceeds the level recorded a year ago (3.94 million versus 3.87 million). Nevertheless, there are still fewer covered workers than there were in January 2008, which means that payrolls are smaller today than they were roughly seven years ago.
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 at the lowest level recorded since early 2008, while the four-week average of continuing claims is somewhat above 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 (4,616) was 17 percent lower than the figure recorded one year ago (5,562), while the average number of continuing claims was 42.5 percent lower (41,192 versus 71,672). Given the modest rate of job growth that has occurred in North Carolina over the past year, such declines likely are, at least in part, products of changes to unemployment insurance laws rather than improvements in underlying economic conditions.