The state of the labor market is not ideal. For example, jobless claims took an unexpected turn higher last week in a potential sign that the wintertime omicron surge hit the labor market.
Initial filings for the week that ended on January 15 reached 286,000. The result surpassed expectations. More importantly, the total was the highest since the week of October 16 and marks a reversal after claims just a few weeks ago fell to the lowest level in more than 50 years.
Continuing claims, which run a week behind the headline data, reached 1.64 million. Hopefully, one bright spot is the data about the four-week moving average for continuing claims. It dropped by 55,250 to 1.664 million, the lowest since the week ended on April 27, 2019.
Jobless claims and interesting details
Based on the unadjusted data, California showed a sharp 6,075 jump in jobless claims. Another populous state New York reported a decline of 14,011.
It is worth noting that total recipients of all unemployment compensation programs grew by 180,114 to 2.13 million, according to data through January 1.
Jobless claims are a leading real-time gauge of the employment picture, which brightened in some reports. However, it is still affected by multiple trouble spots.
The unemployment rate declined to 3.9% after a record year of nonfarm payrolls growth. However, the total employment level remains 2.9 million below where it was in February 2020, just before the pandemic declaration.
The pandemic created numerous challenges for the labor market. For example, labor force participation remains well below the pre-pandemic levels, with the current 61.9% rate 1.5 percentage points below the pre-Covid level. The country’s labor force fell by nearly 2.3 million during the period.