For the fifth week in a row new unemployment insurance (UI) claims came in over 400,000. The number for last week was 434,000, bring the 4-week moving average to 436,750, the highest it has been since November.
This should be real news. There were a lot of explanations for increases in the prior weeks based on administrative issues or the timing of Easter. These factors can explain a one-week jump, but they imply lower claims in the preceding or following week.
At this point, the data are clearly giving a warning of weakness in the labor market. It is also worth noting that many newly unemployed workers will not be eligible for benefits since they have been unemployed for much of the last two years. (Eligibility for benefits is based on recent work history. Someone who was unemployed for 8 months, and then employed at a low-paying job for 4 months, and then laid off, likely will not have an earnings history that qualifies them for benefits.) If ineligible workers generally do not apply for benefits, then 434,000 new claims in 2011 would correspond to more layoffs than 434,000 claims in May of 2008.