For the week ending January 14, 2017, jobless claims declined 15K to 234K, the lowest level since the 1970s. This is the last Unemployment Insurance data under President Barack Obama. The first reading under his Presidency, on January 24, 2009, was a whopping 586K.
Unemployment insurance (UI) programs are administered at the state level and provide assistance to jobless people who are looking for work. Statistics on the insured unemployed in the United States are collected as a by-product of state UI programs. Workers who lose their jobs may file applications to determine if they are eligible for UI assistance. These applications are referred to as "initial claims." Claimants who meet the eligibility requirements must file "continuing claims" for each week that they seek benefits.
Data on initial and continuing UI claims are maintained by the Employment and Training Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Labor, and are available on the Internet at http://workforcesecurity.doleta.gov/unemploy/claims.asp.
While the UI claims data provide useful information, they are not used to measure total unemployment because they exclude several important groups. To begin with, not all workers are covered by UI programs. For example, self-employed workers, unpaid family workers, workers in certain not-for-profit organizations, and several other small (primarily seasonal) worker categories are not covered.
In addition, the insured unemployed exclude the following:
1.Unemployed workers who have exhausted their benefits.
2.Unemployed workers who have not yet earned benefit rights (such as new entrants or reentrants to the labor force).
3.Disqualified workers whose unemployment is considered to have resulted from their own actions rather than from economic conditions; for example, a worker fired for misconduct on the job.
4.Otherwise eligible unemployed persons who do not file for benefits.
Because of these and other limitations, statistics on insured unemployment cannot be used as a measure of total unemployment in the United States. Indeed, over the past decade, only about one-third of the total unemployed, on average, received regular UI benefits.
UI claims data are widely used as an indicator of labor market conditions. Data users must be cautious, however, about trying to compare or reconcile the UI claims data with the official unemployment figures gathered through the CPS. Even if one sets aside the major definitional limitations outlined above, there are comparability issues related to the distinct reference periods, methodologies, and reporting practices of the two data sources. More importantly, though, the weekly UI claims data reflect only people who became unemployed and do not take into account the number of unemployed people who found jobs or stopped looking for work. The official unemployment figures from the CPS, on the other hand, represent the net result of overall movement into and out of unemployment in a given month. Changes in CPS estimates of total unemployment for any given month will tend to be far smaller than the sum total of weekly UI initial claimants over a month-long span.