New filings for jobless claims rose unexpectedly last week because of large jumps in Missouri and Ohio. New claims advanced to 248,000 from an upwardly revised 225,000 the week before, according to data from the Labor Department on Thursday.
The upside surprise was quite large as the market had estimated a decline in new claims to 218,000. This was most likely a one-time increase, as the majority of states beyond Missouri and Ohio registered decreases in new claims last week.
Despite the week-to-week volatility, our preferred measure for the long-term trend—the 13-week moving average—continued to trend lower, to 225,000 from 226,000.
What has been somewhat overlooked is how quickly the labor market has recovered since the shock of the pandemic. It took less than two years despite multiple waves of the coronavirus. After the financial crisis, by contrast, it took about nine years to reach a similar level.
For the past three months, jobless claims have stayed far below the 2010-2018 average at 322,000, one of the longest expansion periods in U.S. history. And it was only in 2019, when the economy was close to full employment, that layoffs reached such low levels.
The total number of claims for the week ending Jan. 29 was 2.06 million, down by 36,295 from the week before. There were 18.9 million total claims a year ago.
Looking past the choppy nature of the weekly data, we should expect new filings for jobless benefits to hover around the 2019 average for the coming months as the tight labor market persists.