Jobless claims: Initial filings broke below 400,000 for the first time since March 2020

New jobless claims fell for a fifth consecutive week to reach a new 14-month low as fewer and fewer Americans become newly unemployed during the recovery out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Department of Labor released its weekly report on new jobless claims Thursday at 8:30 a.m. ET. Here were the main metrics from the report, compared to consensus data compiled by Bloomberg:

  • Initial jobless claims, week ended May 29: 385,000 vs. 387,000 expected and a downwardly revised 405,000 last week

  • Continuing claims, week ended May 22: 3.771 million vs. 3.614 million expected and a downwardly revised 3.602 million last week 

New jobless claims fell below 400,000 for the first time since the start of the pandemic in the U.S., bringing new filings within striking distance of their pre-pandemic weekly rate. New claims were averaging just over 200,000 per week throughout 2019. 

As has been the case for the past several weeks, most states reported declines in new filings during the week ended May 29. The decreases were led by Texas with a drop of nearly 3,000 new claims, on an unadjusted basis. Oregon and Florida also saw new claims fall by more than 2,000 last week.

Some states did post notable increases in unadjusted new claims, however, including Pennsylvania with a rise of more than 7,000. California, Illinois and Kentucky followed with increases of more than 3,000 each.

With new filings tumbling consistently over the last several months, a central focus of the weekly reports has transitioned to the number of Americans still claiming benefits across all programs. That metric has remained stubbornly elevated even as the pandemic's grip on the U.S. begins to abate. And continuing claims for regular state programs unexpectedly increased during the week ended May 22, rising from the prior week's downwardly revised level.

During the week ended May 15, the number of Americans claiming benefits across all unemployment programs totaled 15.4 million, dipping by about 366,000 from the prior week. During the comparable week last year, total claimants came in at 30.8 million.

And notably, the number of Americans claiming benefits through the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) programs has been especially high. About 11.7 million individuals were claimants of these programs as of the week ended May 15, ticking down only trivially from the previous week. 

These benefits are set to expire at the national level in early September. However, nearly two dozen states recently announced they would be cutting off these programs as soon as this month, largely in hopes of incentivizing workers to seek employment and alleviate some of the labor shortages reported across industries as demand resurges.

The Institute for Supply Management's May manufacturing index released earlier this week showed that employment trends were slowing in the goods-producing sector, and that "difficulties in filling open positions continue to be issues that limit manufacturing-growth potential," according to ISM. 

"While initial jobless claims come well after the survey period for May employment, it will be useful to see the latest data for continuing claims — particularly the federal UI programs (PEUC and PUA)," Brett Ryan, senior U.S. economist for Deutsche Bank, wrote in a note ahead of Thursday's report. "As of the first week of May, the four-week average of PEUC and PUA claimants was approximately 11.97 million, down a little over 740K from the beginning of April." 

"Note that 23 states will be ending these programs prior to the federal cutoff in the first week of September. These states represent around 22% of those currently collecting federal benefits. Hence, it will be interesting to see how these states perform in the coming months as they begin to cut benefits for roughly 2.6 million people between June and July." 

Emily McCormick is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @emily_mcck

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