Jobless claims report points to long-term unemployment problem

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This came in via the U.S. Department of Labor early this morning:

In the week ending Feb. 13, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 473,000, an increase of 31,000 from the previous week’s revised figure of 442,000. The 4-week moving average was 467,500, a decrease of 1,500 from the previous week’s revised average of 469,000.

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The jobless claims series is the best real time dataset we have – and right now it is pointing to a weak and halting recovery. There are still 5.5 million people on the unemployment roles (4.6 using the seasonally-adjusted data).  However, there are a record 5.8 million people collecting extended unemployment benefits as well.  So, this brings us to a record 11.3 million people collecting some sort of unemployment insurance benefit in the United States.

jobless claims 2010 02 18

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The areas marked in red from this past week’s report show continued elevated levels of stress in America’s labor market.  However, compare those figures to the year ago numbers and it is clear that we are losing fewer jobs than at the height of the downturn. So, the labor market, while weak is marginally improved in this regard. 

The most distressing difference however is the last line – EUC 2008. This is the number of individuals on extended benefits – and that number has trebled since the depths of the recession. Translation: long-term unemployment rates have skyrocketed. And since long-term unemployment equals loss of skills and employability, we are looking at statistics that will translate into a human tragedy for many Americans if and when the employment picture brightens.

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