The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell further for third straight week to the lowest level in the last couple of months. It seems that the worst months for the labor market could be behind us. There is progress on the new stimulus package, the COVID-19 vaccine is becoming available to more Americans, and layoffs have started to ease. However, layoffs remain elevated compared to their peak during the Great Recession, although they are well below the record 6.2 million last April in the beginning of the pandemic.
Specifically, unadjusted initial claims fell to 816,247. This is a decrease of 23,525 claims from the prior week. In the meantime, continued claims, which measure the number of people receiving checks for regular unemployment benefits, also dropped by 127,726 to nearly 5 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-four states reported a decrease in new claims for the week ending January 30. Taking a closer look at the percentage change of the last week's new claims with the new claims of the previous week, Illinois (-58%) had the largest drop in layoffs followed by Mississippi (-56%) and Kansas (-33%). In contrast, unadjusted advance claims increased in California, Rhode Island and Kentucky. Particularly, compared to the previous week, initial claims increased by 79% in California; 39% in Rhode Island; 35% in Kentucky.
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 7.2 million people received benefits in the week ending January 16 using the federal government's PUA program. Following the sharp increase in the middle of January, the number of people receiving PUA benefits fell by nearly 126,000. New York, Massachusetts and Ohio had the most people receiving PUA benefits. Specifically, 14% of the labor force in New York received PUA benefits in the week ending January 16 followed by Massachusetts (10%) and Ohio (10%).
Finally, 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 24 additional weeks) with the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). Nearly 3.6 million Americans received PEUC benefits in the week ending January 16. Indiana, Arkansas and Michigan were the states with the highest increase of people receiving PEUC benefits compared to the previous week. In Indiana, the number of PEUC applicants was nearly 11 times higher from the previous week. This increase of PEUC claims was expected since the COVID-19 relief bill recently increased the number of weeks of PEUC eligibility and more people can file for PEUC benefits. However, fewer people applied for longer-term benefits in Wyoming (-76%), Kansas (-57%) and California (-52%) 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.