New filings for jobless benefits continued to beat market estimates to the upside, falling 1.9% to 256,000 for the week ending July 23. Given that the labor market is the main force keeping the economy from descending toward an economic trough, the initial jobless claims data released Thursday add important context to the second-quarter GDP figures that showed economic contraction for the second consecutive quarter, down 0.9%.
While we don’t think the economy was in a recession in the first six months of the year, the trend looks ugly enough in July that we cannot rule out the possibility of the economy entering a recession as early as the third quarter of 2022—if, and only if, the trend continues.
The July decline in new filings for jobless benefits was due to a markedly upward revision in the prior week’s filings from 251,000 to 261,000. Overall, new claims have risen significantly in the last three months as layoffs gain momentum, especially in the technology and housing sectors, which are some of the most rate-sensitive sectors.
Our preferred measure—the 13-week moving average—reached above the pre-pandemic level of 218,000 for the second week in a row.
It is interesting that although the economy has added more than 200,000 new jobless claims every week since April, the number of continuing claims has remained flat since May. Continuing claims were down 1.8% for the week ending July 16.
That suggests labor demand continues to be strong enough that workers filing for unemployment benefits do not stay unemployed for too long. Due to excess job openings, they can find new jobs relatively quickly.
We expect the rise in initial jobless claims will continue as the economy continues to slow down, but it will be at a more gradual pace than what happened at the onset of the pandemic because of such strong labor demand. A sharp spike in new claims—a proxy for layoffs—won’t appear until all the signs of a recession align and the impact of Fed’s rate hikes is felt by the real economy, which might take several months to play out.