Weekly Unemployment Claims Decline Again

May 21, 2020
Author: Stephanie Ludwigsen

How quickly Americans fall off unemployment and return to work will go a long way toward determining how rapidly the U.S. rebounds from one of the most devastating economic shocks on record. As initial claims slow, eyes will turn to continued claims and other data-tracking measures to gauge the country’s current and future employment condition.

Unemployment claims for the week ending May 16

Cumulative Jobless Claims Top 38 Million

For the week ending May 16, initial unemployment claims have receded again below the weekly 3 million mark, with 2.438 million initial claims filed. That brings the number of cumulative initial claims filed since March 15 to more than 38 million. However, continued claims total over 25 million, suggesting either that many people who filed for unemployment over the past weeks have either regained employment or fallen out of the labor force. The U.S. unemployment rate using UI data is now estimated to be between 25% and 29.6%.

Calc UR 5.21

The seasonally adjusted initial claims for the week ending May 9 were revised down to 2.687 million. Combined with pre-pandemic and continued claims, the projected number of unemployed people in the U.S. is currently between 39 million and 46 million. (This range of 7 million includes those who may not be participating in labor force.)

UI Weekly Claims 5.21

By state, some of the largest non-seasonally adjusted initial claims from March 15 through the week ending May 16 were:

State Claims Reopen

Several states, including Florida, New York and Tennessee, are still seeing some increase in initial weekly claims. While some states will see modest increases because of processing catch-up effects, states are largely decelerating their initial claims filings. At this time, it is not clear how many workers have returned to their jobs due to Paycheck Protection Program funds, but this may begin contributing to declining continued claims as employees reenter their workplaces.

Experimental Census Survey Aims to Provide Real Time Data

The U.S. Census Bureau launched its experimental Household Pulse Survey data recently to help inform near real-time federal and state response and recovery planning. The survey, which covers a representative sample of households across the U.S., shows that 47.5% of households across the country have lost some measure of employment income since March 13. Most notably, 37% of households expect to lose employment income in the next four weeks. The four states where households expect to be most impacted in the coming four weeks are New Jersey (48.6%), Nevada (47%), New York (46.4%) and Louisiana (44.4%).

This may signal that unemployment claims may not slow at the previously anticipated rate, or that claims are not capturing the breadth of the pandemic’s impact. As agencies such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics wrestle with their data lag, these surveys may begin to paint a more accurate picture of the U.S. employment situation.


For May, initial jobless claims should hover around 11 million for the month. Weekly claims are expected to continue to decline from around 2 million weekly, depending on the rehiring rate for the temporarily unemployed. A substantial deceleration in initial claims is forecasted to continue into June and July, based on the majority of states initiating their phased reopenings.

ThinkWhy continuously monitors and forecasts labor data at all levels, measuring impact to MSAs and businesses across the country. Stay current with us. We are here to support organizations and provide insights during the economic downturn as well as the recovery phase.