Unemployment Claims Are Up for Third Consecutive Week

The rise reflects delta variant effects and a spike in California

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Corrects the number of increased claims California had in the week ended Sept. 25 to 17,978 from the prior week in the third paragraph. The previous version cited 17,218, which was California’s increase in the week ended Sept. 18.

The number of people initiating claims for unemployment insurance rose for a third straight week, reflecting the economic impact of the fast-spreading delta variant and an unusual, one-time technical spike in California claims.

First-time, seasonally adjusted claims rose to 362,000 in the week through Sept. 25, up 11,000 from the previous week, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists had expected 328,298 claims, according to a consensus estimate cited by Moody’s Analytics. The last time jobless claims rose three consecutive weeks was in April 2020, near the onset of the pandemic. Back then, the gains were much larger and peaked at just under 6.15 million in the week through April 4, 2020.

After the initial shock last year, weekly unemployment claims had been on a steady decline, hitting a pandemic low early in September before this three-week uptrend to the highest level since early August. But economists aren’t worried, saying the delta variant’s effects are now waning and more workers will be able to return to work. They also noted that this past week saw an aberration, with California’s 17,978 claims accounting for a large share of the gains.

“New filings in California have been behind the bulk of the increase in new filings, but some of this may not be from newly laid off people,” said Ryan Sweet, economist at Moody’s Analytics, in a commentary. “California has said that those who are still out of work or working reduced hours may qualify for regular state unemployment benefits. Therefore, the rise in new filings in California could be capturing refiles.”

On Sept. 17, California said it moved some claimants of the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation that expired on Sept. 4 to another program to pick up another week of claims. The transfer, it said, would show up as a large bump in claims filed but would not represent new people seeking unemployment assistance. 

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