Economists' Outlook

Housing stats and analysis from NAR's research experts.

Jobless Claims Dropped to the Lowest Level Since the Pandemic Started

Tracking jobless claims by state: week ending March 20, 2021

Job market momentum seems to have picked up as the vaccine is becoming more widely available across the country. Jobless claims dropped to the lowest level since the pandemic started, below 700,000. Although weekly data may be volatile, this is an indicator that the overall trend in layoffs has been moving down lately. In the meantime, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) upwardly revised the GDP growth for Q4 2020 to 4.3%, a higher level than expected. Thus, all signs point to an economy that is speeding up, with even faster job growth in the months ahead.

The number of Americans applying for new jobless claims dropped by more than 100,000 last week to 656,789.1 In addition, continued claims, which measure the number of people receiving checks for regular unemployment benefits, also dropped by nearly 280,000 to nearly 4.2 million.

The National Association of REALTORS® closely monitors the weekly claims for unemployment insurance provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Since this data is also released for each state, we track the jobless claims activity at the state level. This state-level data report is a very important indicator to watch at economic turning points because it provides detail on what's happening week by week, rather than each month or quarter.

Thirty-two states reported a decrease in new claims for the week ending March 20. Taking a closer look at the percentage change of the last week's new claims with the new claims of the previous week, Illinois (-79%) had the largest drop in layoffs followed by New Hampshire (-63%) and Arkansas (-41%). While most states reported improvements in layoffs, several populous states posted increases. Unadjusted new claims rose in Nevada, Connecticut and Virginia. Particularly, compared to the previous week, initial claims increased by 100% in Nevada; 90% in Connecticut; 82% in Virginia.

Here are the top 10 states with the highest increase/decline in jobless claims compared to the previous week:

Moreover, the current release provides information about people filing new and total Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). Specifically, the PUA is for the self-employed and others who do not qualify for the regular state unemployment programs. Among 50 states, nearly 7.7 million people received benefits in the week ending March 6 using the federal government's PUA program. Since this data runs two weeks behind the claims estimates, expect fewer people to receive PUA in coming weeks. New York, Oregon, and Maryland had the most people receiving PUA benefits. Specifically, 14% of the labor force in New York received PUA benefits in the week ending March 6, followed by Oregon (11%) and Maryland (10%).

Finally, after exhausting the 26 weeks of regular benefits that the states typically provide to their residents, people are able to apply for longer-term unemployment benefits (up to 24 additional weeks) with the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). Nearly 5.6 million Americans received PEUC benefits in the week ending March 6. California, Pennsylvania, and Nevada were the states with the highest increase of people receiving PEUC benefits compared to the previous week. However, fewer people applied for longer-term benefits in Michigan (-36%), Massachusetts (-9%), and Virginia (-8%) during the same period.

The map below shows you the percentage change of layoffs for each state. Click on a state to see how many layoffs occurred every week within the last year.

1 Unadjusted initial claims