It says something about the astonishing recent run of job losses in the U.S. that Thursday’s number from the Department of Labor — 5.2 million seasonally adjusted initial unemployment claims filed from April 5 through 11 — counts as a two-week decrease. In the prior week, 6.6 million Americans had filed for unemployment insurance; the week before that, it was nearly 6.9 million. But today’s number still means that a previously unthinkable 22 million unemployment claims have been filed since March 15.
This decline might signal that the biggest single-week job-loss numbers are behind us, between the initial wave of layoffs and the backlog of people who were unable to file claims earlier because of overloaded state unemployment agencies. But as we noted several weeks ago, economists think there may be 25 million more Americans at risk for layoffs, based on the industries hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. So even if the peak for weekly unemployment claims is over, the chart above could end up having a long tail, depending on how long Americans have to stay inside to combat the coronavirus.
Some states are at different points in that progression than others. If we look at advance claims — which are reported weekly by state but are not identical to initial claims1 — we find that Maine saw the biggest decline week-over-week, with 57 percent fewer claims last week than the previous week. Claims in Michigan, which had seen huge total unemployment numbers, declined by 43 percent last week, more than twice as much as the national average (-19.9 percent). A similar story can be told in some other large states, including Ohio (-30 percent), Illinois (-30 percent) and California (-29 percent).
Overall, only nine states or territories saw an increase in people seeking unemployment benefits last week, including North Carolina (+0.3 percent), Florida (+7 percent) and New York (+15 percent). Colorado saw a 131 percent increase in advance claims last week, after declining by 25 percent the previous week:
|March 22-28||March 29-April 4||april 5-11|
This data comes with the same disclaimer as national initial claims do: In addition to reflecting jobs that were actually lost last week, it also measures the jobs that had been lost earlier but had not yet been processed. But it does provide another set of data points for where the biggest increases in unemployment might be happening across the country right now.
Some areas of the country are bending the curve against the virus itself, which is the most important factor for reducing COVID-19’s economic damage as well. But even once new cases are on the decline, the question of when — and how — to get people back to work is incredibly complicated. As we begin to move into that phase of the process, the unemployment numbers will recede, but it could be a very long time before they look normal again.