Weekly initial jobless claims at 388K

Up? Down? All around?  The new level for weekly jobless claims this week hit 388,000, according to the Department of Labor, which would have been an increase of 2,000 over last week’s initial level of 386,000.  Last week’s report got revised upward by 3,000, though, so the DoL calls this a decrease of 1,000:

In the week ending April 21, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 388,000, a decrease of 1,000 from the previous week’s revised figure of 389,000. The 4-week moving average was 381,750, an increase of 6,250 from the previous week’s revised average of 375,500.

The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 2.6 percent for the week ending April 14, unchanged from the prior week.

The advance number for seasonally adjusted insured unemployment during the week ending April 14 was 3,315,000, an increase of 3,000 from the preceding week’s revised level of 3,312,000. The 4-week moving average was 3,311,750, a decrease of 9,750 from the preceding week’s revised average of 3,321,500.

The four-week moving average tells the story more clearly.  Just two weeks ago, it was at 368,500 while the jobless claims increased.  The ramp-up in joblessness is not a huge trend, but it’s definitely turning into a trend, and it’s going in the wrong direction.

AP’s Chris Rugaber notes that this is the highest level in three months, both in the weekly level and in the four-week rolling average:

The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits remained stuck near a three-month high last week, a sign that hiring has likely slowed since winter.

The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications dipped 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 388,000. It was little changed from the previous week’s figure, the highest since Jan. 7.

The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose to 381,750, also the highest in three months.

Rugaber shoots down the notion that the slowdown occurred because of “temporary layoffs during the spring holidays” by noting that hiring has obviously not rebounded since.  I’m not aware of any significant seasonal cycle of drops in employment over spring breaks.  The fact that the March jobs report was so mediocre and that this trend has been under way for a month makes it pretty clear that this is no seasonal burp.

For comedy, try Reuters, which headlines its report “Jobless claims ease but four-week average rises”:

 New claims for unemployment benefits fell slightly last week but a trend reading rose to its highest since January, the latest sign of a weaker pace of healing in the still-struggling labor market.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped by 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 388,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The prior week’s figure was revised up to 389,000 from the previously reported 386,000.

Er … right.  Jobless claims “eased” only if you compare the revised number from last week to the initial number from this week.  If the pattern holds, next week’s revised number will be a few thousand higher than today’s number, which is exactly what we saw over the last few weeks.  The story in this case isn’t that jobless claims are easing, but that they’re increasing.  The AP gets it right, while Reuters apparently is trying out for a spot on Team Obama.

Hey, at least they didn’t repeat the 400K myth this week.  Maybe we’ll see less of it as claims keep climbing higher to the 400K level.

Update: Suitably Flip has more on the revisions game:

For the 59th week of the last 60, the previous initial jobless claim report was revised upward, from 386,000 to 389,000.  And once again, this enables the Labor Department to report a week-over-week decline in new jobless claims, from the adjusted 389,000 to an adjusted 388,000.  Upon next week’s revision, this week will almost certainly have shown another increase.

If that sounds familiar, it may be because last week, the government reported a decline of 2,000 (but only after upwardly revising the previous week by 8,000).

Looking back over the last five weeks, the cumulative reported weekly changes (from previous weeks’ adjusted data to the new unadjusted numbers) showed a net decline of 1,000, despite an actual cumulative net increase of 24,000.  And that’s without the 5th revision factored in, at which point the cumulative increase will be closer to 30,000.

In addition to serving as fodder for another round of “Jobless Claims Fall” headlines, this week’s underestimate has the additional side effect of avoiding the probably true headline “Jobless Claims Reach New 2012 High” from being written (at least for another week).  They started at 390,000 in early January and, assuming next week brings an upward revision of more than 2,000 (revisions have ranged from +3,000 to +10,000 over the last month), then we’re already sitting at year-to-date highs.

Give credit to the AP for actually headlining the news, rather than the spin.

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