Posted by: Josh Lehner | June 16, 2011

Unemployment Graphs

Here is a quick rundown of graphs regarding unemployment statistics in Oregon.

The first graph shows the weekly initial claims as reported by the Oregon Employment Department, along with the 4 week moving average. Data available HERE. As with many of these graphs and statistics, the state has come a long way from the depths of the recession, however we still remain elevated relative to what one would expect in good economic times. Layoffs have slowed significantly but hirings have only increased slightly.

This next graph shows the weekly claims but on the same x-axis so it is easier to see how one year compares to the next. Note that these are unadjusted for population or labor force changes. It is interesting to notice the pattern of claims over the business cycle, particularly the spike in claims in late 2008 as the full force of the financial crisis hit. So far in 2011, claims are slightly below 2010 levels and close to 2008 levels.

This graph follows the same data but is on a monthly basis, is calculated per 1,000 labor force participants and is seasonally adjusted. The number of claims relative to the size of the population looking for work has decline significantly the past two years however it remains above the levels seen during good economic times. The uptick in the most recent month is due to an increase in claims, but also to a small decline in the labor force.

The graph below shows the level of unemployment benefits paid over the past six and a half years. Even though new claims have been falling, many of the individuals who receive regular program benefits (the first 26 weeks of unemployment compensation) are unable to find a job and switch over to one or more of the extended benefits programs. So even though the blue line – the level of benefits for those recently unemployed – has declined quite a bit, the total level of benefits paid (purple) has not fallen to the same extent. Data HERE.

Even though the state continues to see individuals switch over to the extended programs, the percentage of those who have exhausted all their regular benefits has begun to decline. That is, a larger share of those recently unemployed have been able to find a job before the initial 26 weeks are over. As seen below, the exhaustion rate remains extremely high, it is still currently above what the state experienced last recession, however a peak appears to have been passed. While this certainly does not signal all things go in the labor market, it is another indication that it is an improving labor market – more individuals are able to find a job.

Finally, all the above data and statistics are for individuals who have applied and/or received unemployment benefits in the State of Oregon. Applying and/or receiving such compensation has absolutely no bearing on whether or not you are considered unemployed in the monthly employment statistics. With all that being said, a typical question or comment asks what the “real” unemployment rate is in the state. The official unemployment rate (termed U-3) counts those individuals who do not have a job but are actively looking for a job. This definition does leave out discouraged workers – those who have given up looking for work – and does not count the underemployed as unemployed – those who would like a full time job but are working part time for economic reasons. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics actually releases 6 different measures of unemployment, which can be found HERE. Unfortunately at the state level the data is not monthly and is not as timely as one could hope. The BLS reports the data as a 4 quarter moving average – that means the 2011 Q1 data represents the average for all months beginning in April 2010 through March 2011. Using such a long average means the measure is not very responsive to new data points, however the overall story can be told. That story for Oregon is one in which the U-6 measure of unemployment is significantly higher than that of the U.S. In fact, for the past year, Oregon has ranked 4th worst in this category, even as our official unemployment rate (U-3) ranks somewhat better. The improvement in Oregon official unemployment rate in the past few months will begin to work its way into these alternate measures and averages and the light blue line will begin to decline.

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