IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Unemployment claims keep moving in the wrong direction

There's fresh evidence that the U.S. job market is getting worse, not better, as the number of layoffs grows unexpectedly.
A person files an application for unemployment benefits on April 16, 2020, in Arlington, Va.Olivier Douliery / AFP via Getty Images file

For 36 consecutive weeks, the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits has been worse than anything seen during the Great Recession.

When it comes to weekly unemployment filings, our whole understanding of "normal" flew out the window six months ago. For example, as regular readers know, it was considered a catastrophe during the Great Recession when jobless claims topped 600,000.

But in 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic started taking a brutal toll on the U.S. economy, Americans confronted an entirely new set of standards -- to the point that it seemed like relatively good news in September when initial jobless claims fell below 1 million for the first time since March.

Progress has nevertheless been hit or miss, and the new report from the Labor Department, for the second consecutive week, pointed in a decidedly discouraging direction.

In the week ending November 21, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 778,000, an increase of 30,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 6,000 from 742,000 to 748,000. The 4-week moving average was 748,500, an increase of 5,000 from the previous week's revised average.

Note, there's been an increase of 67,000 filings over the last two weeks, which is the worst shift we've seen since the summer, and evidence of a job market that's getting worse, not better. We've also now had 36 consecutive weeks in which the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits was worse than at any time during the Great Recession.

All of which leads us back to the point we discuss every week around this time: the country still needs economic relief as the coronavirus pandemic continues to take a brutal toll.

We're still not likely to get an aid package anytime soon. Last week, Democratic congressional leaders sent a formal request to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), practically begging him to return to the negotiating table to work on an agreement on an economic aid package. A day later, McConnell announced that the Senate was wrapping up its work until after Thanksgiving.

As for the White House, Donald Trump published a tweet recently endorsing a "big" relief bill, but when it comes to actual work, the president has expressed no interest in reaching an agreement.

That said, all hope is not completely lost. Late last week, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters, in reference to congressional Republicans, "Last night, they've agreed to sit down and the staffs are going to sit down today or tomorrow to try to begin to see if we can get a real good COVID relief bill. So there's been a little bit of a breakthrough in that McConnell's folks are finally sitting down and talking to us."

To be sure, these were staff-level talks. In other words, Schumer and McConnell didn't sit down at the negotiating table together; their aides sat down with one another to explore possibilities.

Still, for those holding out hope, seeing the door ajar is better than seeing it closed.

Postscript: This Labor Department report is usually released on Thursdays, but because of the Thanksgiving holiday tomorrow, it was released this morning.