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Unemployment

First-Time, Continuing Jobless Claims Continue to Drop

First-time claims for unemployment insurance fell 10,000 to 332,000 for the week ending March 9, the ""Labor Department"":http://www.ows.doleta.gov/press/2013/031413.asp reported Thursday. Economists expected 350,000 initial unemployment claims. The drop in filings--the third in the last four weeks--resumed a downward trend in layoffs.

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The report on claims for the week ended March was revised to 342,000 from the originally reported 340,000.

Meanwhile, the number of continuing claims (reported on a one week lag) fell 89,000 to 3,024,000, the lowest level since June 2008. Continuing claims for the week ending February 23 were revised up to 3,113,000 from the originally reported 3,094,000.

The four-week moving average of first-time claims fell 2,750 to 346,750, a five-year low. The moving average, which smooths the volatility in the weekly report, has fallen for three straight weeks.

The four-week moving average of continuing claims also fell, dropping 28,250 to 3,098,250, the lowest level since July 2008.

The continuing claims data series tracks the number of longer term unemployed who qualify for regular state jobless benefits and often shows large movements, depending on first-time claims 26 weeks earlier and legislative changes to state unemployment programs. It is subject to wider revisions than the number of first-time claimants.

The steady decline of initial unemployment claims (in seven of the first 10 weeks this year) signals sustainable improvement in labor markets, but those improvements could be reversed quickly as the impact of budget sequestration cuts extends to government contractors. The improvement this year marks a reversal from the beginning of 2012, when first-time claims rose in six of the first 10 weeks of the year.

The report on initial claims to be released next week will cover the same week used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for its monthly Employment Situation report. That report will be released next on April 5.

Initial claims fell in three of the first seven weeks of 2012, dropping an average of 15,000. In the four weeks in which claims rose, the average increase was a little over 8,000. This year, claims have fallen in four of the first seven weeks (with an average drop of 18,500), but the average increase in the other three weeks was 23,000, suggesting employers may have done even more short-term hiring for the holiday season.

The total number of people claiming benefits in all programs for the week ending February 23 was 5,619,860, an increase of 217,967 from the previous week. There were 7,424,041 persons claiming benefits in all programs in the comparable week in 2012. Extended Benefits were available only in Alaska during the week ending February 23.

According to the BLS, 12,032,000 persons were officially considered unemployed in January, which means that of those individuals counted as unemployed, 6.63 million were not receiving any form of government unemployment insurance, up from 6.27 million one week earlier.

The Labor Department said states reported 1,917,158 persons claiming EUC (Emergency Unemployment Compensation) benefits for the week ending February 23, a decrease of 136,532 from the prior week. There were 2,875,795 persons claiming EUC in the comparable week in 2012.

States continue to borrow from the federal government to cover shortfalls in those funds which will eventually have to be repaid--unless Congress intervenes--with higher assessments on employers. Since those assessments are a percentage of payrolls, they discourage employers from adding new workers. As of March 12, 23 states had borrowed a total of $29.3 billion. One week earlier, 23 states had an aggregate $28.5 billion in outstanding loans to cover shortfalls. Five states--California, Indiana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Ohio--owe more than $1 billion, which may require higher unemployment premiums or special assessments on employers in those states.

_Hear Mark Lieberman Friday on P.O.T.U.S. radio, Sirius-XM 124, at 6:40 a.m. and again at 9:40 a.m. EST._

About Author: Mark Lieberman

Mark Lieberman is the former Senior Economist at Fox Business Network. He is now Managing Director and Senior Economist at Economics Analytics Research. He can be heard each Friday on The Morning Briefing on POTUS on Sirius-XM Radio 124.
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