Weekly Unemployment Claims Heading 51,000 in the Wrong Direction

The Department of Labor’s Unemployment Insurance Weekly Claims Report was released this morning for last week.

In the week ending Jan. 22, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 454,000, an increase of 51,000 from the previous week’s revised figure of 403,000. The 4-week moving average was 428,750, an increase of 15,750 from the previous week’s revised average of 413,000.The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 3.2 percent for the week ending Jan. 15, an increase of 0.1 percentage point from the prior week’s unrevised rate of 3.1 percent.

The advance number for seasonally adjusted insured unemployment during the week ending Jan. 15 was 3,991,000, an increase of 94,000 from the preceding week’s revised level of 3,897,000. The 4-week moving average was 3,975,500, a decrease of 39,750 from the preceding week’s revised average of 4,015,250.

Briefing.com had expected a drop in new claims to 400,000 and put the consensus expectation at 410,000 claims.

As we can see, there’s a good bit of volatility in this indicator, which is why the 4-week moving average (shown in the callouts) is a more useful number than the weekly data.

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Occasionally I see articles critical of seasonal adjustment, especially when the non-adjusted number better suits the author’s bias. But a comparison of these two charts clearly shows extreme volatility of the non-adjusted data, and the 4-week MA gives an indication of the recurring pattern of seasonal change in the second chart (note, for example, those regular January spikes).

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Because of the extreme volatility of the non-adjusted weekly data, a 52-week moving average gives a better sense of the long-term trends.

weekly unemployment 52 ma

The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides an overview on seasonal adjustment here (scroll down about half way down). For more specific insight into the adjustment method, check out the BLS Seasonal Adjustment Files and Documentation.

Doug Short Ph.d is the author of dshort.com.

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