Posted by: Doug Henwood | March 26, 2020

Unemployment claims surge

Last week, 3.3 million people* applied for unemployment insurance. That’s five times the previous record weekly number, a series that goes back to 1967. Compared to monthly averages and expressed as a percent of employment, which is how it’s shown in the graph below, that’s over two-and-a-half times the previous record.

As of the previous week, 1.8 million people were drawing unemployment insurance, so the number of new claimants is almost twice the number already on benefits, or 182% as many, to be precise. That ratio has never exceeded 26% before.

This surge is unemployment is unprecedented in both scale and speed. And this is only the beginning.

Initial claims


*That’s after seasonal adjustment, which attempts to compensate for regular fluctuations in the number from week to week. Before adjustment, 2.9 million actual humans applied. Seasonally adjusted figures are the standard way of looking at this and many other economic series, which is why I’m featuring it and only making this geeky observation in a footnote.


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