Continuing Unemployment Insurance Claims Say "Recession"

Thursday, May 22, 2008 | 06:30 AM


"Below 400k New Claims = No Recession."

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One of the latest wrong ideas floating around is that you cannot possibly have a recession until there are more than 400k new jobless claims per week. I do not believe that relying on New Unemployment Claims presents sufficient information to draw that conclusion. This morning, we will explore why, and what might be a better measure. (New Jobless Claims are released today at 8:30 am. Consensus is for 370K, with a range of 360K to 380).

Similar to the erroneous claim that no recession can start when GDP is positive -- now thoroughly debunked -- the latest similarly incorrect bout of ignorance is the statement that current employment situation is non-recessionary due to initial claims being below the 400K level.

Alas, if only these analyst/pundits were more reliant on historical data.   

The "Not at a recessionary-layoff-rate" crowd has forgotten why employment data is so important: Its all the good things -- consumption, savings, investment -- that goes with it. However, employment is a function of more than just layoffs. As we know, total employment is a function of both layoffs and new hires combined.

Why does this matter? Layoffs are a function of several factors, not the least of which is the number of recent hires. Given how poor the overall level of new job creation was in the post-2001 recession cycle, the present layoff level is not surprising. It is relatively modest, at least when compared with the 2001 recession.

Hence, accurately tracking this data series is important.

Consider instead Continuing Unemployment Insurance Claims (CUIC). The informative chart below shows U.S. Continuing Unemployment Insurance Claims, year-over-year percentage changes, 4 week moving average (shown in light blue).

The continuing claims data series captures two key elements:

1) The number of layoffs/job losses;

2) How quickly the unemployed return to work.

Hence, layoffs are only half of the picture.

The chart below depicts both factors: The layoff rate combined with level of labor returning to employment. So even if layoffs are  relatively modest, continuing claims level could deteriorate, if hiring is weak.

Observe the CUIC, YoY, 4 Week MA: Every time this has moved above 10%, we have been in a recession. If you want a margin of safety, use  15%.   

The current reading: 19.5% -- is deep into recessionary levels --  despite INITIAL CLAIMS being below 400k.

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Continuing unemployment claims confirm recession?
click for ginormous chartCuic_2
data via BLS, NBER

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At present, we see the ongoing deterioration of continuing claims. This is occurring regardless of the rate at which employers are laying off workers. Hence, it is more a factor of new hiring as opposed to layoffs.

The chart above lends support to the idea we've very likely entered a recession already.

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One final note: Continuing Unemployment Insurance Claims are a much cleaner data series than NFP. There is no Birth/Death model, no hedonic adjustment for quality -- and, the Year over Year data does not suffer the occasional indignity of seasonal adjustments.

Enjoy it before someone dilutes it to the point of worthlessness . . .

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Previously:
Job Creation: Post-Recession Recovery Cycles
http://bigpicture.typepad.com/comments/2008/04/job-creation-po.html

Recessions Often Begin With Positive GDP Data
http://bigpicture.typepad.com/comments/2008/05/positive-gdp-re.html

Thursday, May 22, 2008 | 06:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (30) | TrackBack (0)
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Comments

Ya know, there's something else Barry that no one talks about:

When you get a severance package you are not entitled to unemployment.

Now, while not all that many people get severance these days, many of those in the biggest layoff area -- Banks, Brokers, Financials -- often do.

These people do not show up in either the New Unemployment Claims or Continuing Claims either.

Most of the layoffs coming from financial companies are likely giving some sort of severance pkg that is bigger than 2 weeks pay.

Just an FYI -- the new claims are likely understated due to this.

Posted by: Helene | May 22, 2008 7:22:16 AM

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