Surprise! Jobless Claims Jump As Pandemic Rages Unabated

778,000 Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, a five-week high and far more than consensus expected.

This marks the second week in a row that claims have delivered an unwelcome surprise.

I suppose “surprise” is something of a misnomer. There’s nothing particularly “surprising” about more folks filing at a time when the country’s inability to contain an epidemic is forcing state and local officials to curtail business activity — again.

The prior week’s figure was revised higher to 748,000. The four-week moving average rose 5,000.

Initial claims are now well above the pandemic-era lows hit early this month. The latest figures underscore the need for more fiscal stimulus at a time when Congress remains deadlocked, even as both parties insist they’re willing to strike a compromise to rush aid to Americans and imperiled businesses during the lame duck session.

Continuing claims for the week ending November 14 came in at 6,071,000. That was slightly above estimates.

PEUC claims look to have jumped again, as the jobless exhaust regular state benefits. That’s critical.

“Continuing claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which provides benefits to self-employed and gig workers, increased by about 466,000 [while] the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which provides payments to the long-term unemployed, was used by 4.51 million Americans,” Bloomberg noted, on the way to reminding everyone that “those two programs will expire at year-end, leaving many without government aid.”

It’s the same story week after week. Although a Janet Yellen Treasury, a Democratic House, and a Joe Biden presidency together bode well for stimulus, millions of Americans and thousands of small businesses don’t have time on their side.

As for the odds of a relief bill during the lame duck session, one issue is the Georgia runoffs. It’s possible that both Republicans and Democrats will be reluctant to move without clarity on which party will control the Senate going forward.

In any case, the latest claims figures underscore what everyone already knows: Regular people are suffering.

The sad irony is that the folks who spend their days parsing economic data (like jobless claims) for clues on how it might affect the macro reality and thereby their financial asset holdings, are almost by definition completely detached from that same reality.

It’s that disconnect that will eventually prove unsustainable from a societal stability perspective. And there are a lot more poor people than there are rich people.


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