Friday, July 31, 2009

Unemployment Danger Still Hasn't Passed

Unemployment is still rearing its ugly head as the initial jobless claims increased slightly at the end of July, giving more credence to a jobless recovery. What does the uptick in unemployment mean for the prospects of economic recovery? James Picerno from The Capital Spectator has more on this.

Today's update on initial jobless claims reminds that the threat of economic contraction isn't vanquished. There's been progress, but the dark forces of decline are still lurking.

For the week ending July 25, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 584,000, an increase of 25,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 559,000. A rise in new fillings for unemployment benefits is unsettling at this precarious stage in the economic cycle. Still, there's nothing in today's numbers that convinces us to alter our view that the technical end of the recession is near. For the moment, last week's jump looks like statistical noise.

That's not to say that all danger has passed—it hasn't. But as our chart below reminds, the general trend in initial jobless claims remains one of decline. Then again, let's not forget that new filings have risen for two weeks running, albeit off of a relatively low base by the standards of this year. Another week or two of this behavior and it may be time to rethink our otherwise favorable outlook that the cycle's trough is unfolding right about now. We'd become more anxious if initial claims jumped above 600,000 in the coming weeks.

Meantime, weekly jobless claims are still signaling that the recession is about to end, if it hasn't already. Having peaked back in March at 674,000, the decline since then suggests that the worst of the economic contraction is behind us. Then again, history is only a guide, not a guarantee.

There's only one way to resolve the debate of whether we're past the worst of this recession: More data. Jobless claims have been suggesting for several months that there's light at the end of this tunnel. The only question is timing. The numbers of August, it seems, will be critical.

This post has been republished from James Picerno's blog, The Capital Spectator.

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