Posted by: Josh Lehner | April 29, 2010

Unemployment Insurance Claim Activity

Nationally, new unemployment claims fell to their lowest level in the past month on a seasonally adjusted basis; however, as Calculated Risk notes claims have improved since early 2009 but have essentially moved sideways for the past four months. In Oregon, seasonally adjusted claims continue to show improvement since peaking in February 2009, however the level of claims continues to remain high, evidence of labor market weakness.

Even as the number of initial claims filed declines (due to lower levels of job loss across the state), there remain sparse job openings (PDF) for individuals to move from unemployment to employment. As a result, many unemployment benefit recipients have (and continue to do so) moved from the regular benefits program (the standard 26 week maximum) to extended benefit programs. The graph below illustrates this point as the dollar amount paid to those receiving the regular program benefits has declined in the past year, whereas the total dollar amount paid has held relatively steady with further increases in the past month. The difference between the two lines represents the amount paid to unemployment benefit recipients currently on extension programs (i.e. those individuals who have been unemployed longer than six months and qualify for the extension programs).

A common measurement to gauge the length of unemployment compensation and the relative health of the labor market is to examine the exhaustion rate for individuals on the regular program. The exhaustion rate represents the percentage of individuals who enter into the unemployment compensation regular program and remain on the program the full 26 weeks, when the regular program payments end. The graph below shows the seasonally adjusted number of first payments (when an individual starts receiving payments), the number of final payments (when an individual receives the 26th weekly payment) and the exhaustion rate. For March 2010, the exhaustion rate is currently at an all time high for Oregon with data available starting in 1971.

Typically, Oregon’s exhaustion rate is lower than the nation during expansions but rises to around the national figures during recessions. As seen below, both the US and Oregon’s exhaustion rates are at their highest levels going back to at least 1971.

Unemployment claims are a measure of the labor market, indicating the level of job loss in both good times and bad. The commonly cited figure for the U.S. is that claims need to be below 400,000 per week for the nation to experience net employment growth on a monthly basis. In Oregon, that number is between 8,000 and 9,000 weekly claims (seasonally adjusted).  The precise figure, based on the graph below, is 8,200. In looking at the past 10 weeks of data, initial claims have been below 9,000 three times. There has been continued improvement – declining number of claims – in recent months but it has yet to reach the level where solid, continued employment growth is to be expected. It will be important to keep an eye on the level of initial claims to gauge future employment trends.


  1. […] Below, we take a quick look at unemployment insurance claims in Oregon, essentially updating the previous look from a few months ago. Overall, similar to the nation, Oregon’s claim activity has basically […]

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