Jobless claims ease under new federal calculations

A look inside the Amazon fulfillment center in Etna, Ohio. The online giant is one of the companies that has continued to hire during the COVID-19 pandemic. FILE
A look inside the Amazon fulfillment center in Etna, Ohio. The online giant is one of the companies that has continued to hire during the COVID-19 pandemic. FILE

New claims fall below 900,000 in new weekly report

National applications for unemployment benefits were expected to ease -- and they fell significantly, to well below 900,000 new weekly applications for benefits.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, for the week ending August 29, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 881,000, a decrease of 130,000 from the previous week’s revised level.

The previous week’s level was revised up by 5,000 from 1,006,000 to 1,011,000, the government also said Thursday.

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The new numbers were released a day ahead of Friday’s national employment report for the month of August. The question economists and policy-makers are watching: How did the nation perform compared to the 10.2% unemployment rate achieved in July?

In Montgomery County, there were 803 new claims for benefits, on top of 16,370 claims continuing from previous weeks.

Butler County saw 470 first-time claims, with 9,832 claims ongoing. Neighboring Warren County had 210 new claims, with 4,726 claims continuing.

And in Clark County, 154 new claims were matched with 3,173 continuing claims.

The drop in claims can be attributed to more than a slowly improving labor market, economists warned Thursday. The Department of Labor said it was changing how it calculated claims numbers, using updated seasonally adjusted data that is said to be more in line with the unadjusted data.

The bottom line? Seasonal adjustments that had been used in recent months were prone to raise the actual number of claims, according to data-crunchers. And these claims remain historically elevated, as employers -- and workers -- continue to struggle to get through the COVID-19 global pandemic.

“Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Department of Labor made a change in the way that UI (unemployment insurance) claims are seasonally adjusted starting with this release,” PNC Financial Chief Economist Gus Faucher said. “Thus, the level of claims in previous weeks may not match up with earlier releases.”

“Although the update to the seasonal adjustment methodology muddies the waters a bit, unemployment remains extremely elevated at the end of the summer,” he added.

Consider that the nation saw about 200,000 weekly claims as recently as February, before COVID-19 was first truly felt in the United States.

But still, claims are down significantly compared to the peak of some six million claims in late March.

Ohioans filed 18,719 initial jobless claims last week, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services said Thursday.

This was 255,496 fewer than – or less than 7% of – the peak earlier this year, Ohio said.

The total number of initial jobless claims filed in Ohio over the last 24 weeks (1,664,078) was more than the combined total of those filed during the last four years.