Economists' Outlook

Housing stats and analysis from NAR's research experts.

Jobless Claims Rose Sharply Last Week as More States Impose Stricter Business Restrictions

Tracking jobless claims by state: week ending January 9

More Americans filed a new unemployment claim last week. In fact, the number of unadjusted initial claims rose to 1.15 million, the highest level since the end of July. It is an increase of 231,335 from the prior week, as the re-closing of some businesses in some states is contributing to more layoffs. Indeed, as the data shows, fewer small businesses are open, down nearly 30% compared to pre-pandemic1. At the local level, the District of Columbia, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts were the states with the largest drop in open small businesses compared to January 2020.

In the meantime, continued claims, which measure the number of people receiving checks for regular unemployment benefits, also rose by 474,180 to nearly 5.9 million as more people apply for extended benefits. This program provides compensation to the unemployed after they exhaust both their regular unemployment insurance benefits of 20 weeks and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) benefits of 13 weeks. Nearly 380,000 more people applied for extended benefits for the week ending December 26, the most recent period for which data is available.

Although employment started off slow in the new year, it will gain momentum later this year as the COVID-19 vaccine becomes available to more Americans.

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.

Sixteen states reported a decrease in new claims for the week ending January 9. Taking a closer look at the percentage change of the last week’s new claims with the new claims of the previous week, New Hampshire (-38%) had the largest drop in layoffs followed by Colorado (-37%) and Kentucky (-34%). In contrast, unadjusted advance claims increased in New Mexico, Florida, and Arizona. Particularly compared to the previous week, initial claims increased by 260% in New Mexico; 205% in Florida; and 138% in Arizona.

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). The PUA program is for the self-employed and others who do not qualify for the regular state unemployment programs. Among 50 states, nearly 7.4 million people received benefits in the week ending December 26 using the federal government’s PUA program. New York, Massachusetts, and Oregon had the most people receiving PUA benefits. Specifically, 13% of the labor force in New York received PUA benefits in the week ending December 26 followed by Massachusetts (9%) and Oregon (8%).

Finally, more people applied for extended benefits last week. After exhausting the 26 weeks of regular benefits that states typically provide to their residents, people are able to apply for longer-term unemployment benefits (up to 13 additional weeks) with the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). Nearly 325,150 fewer Americans applied a new claim for PEUC in the week ending December 26 compared to the previous week. Washington, North Dakota, and South Dakota were the states with the highest increase of people applying for PEUC within a week. In Washington, the number of new PEUC applicants rose 19% compared to a week earlier. However, fewer people applied for longer-term benefits in Oklahoma (-100%), Texas (-33%), and Michigan (-31%) 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 Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker.