It's Baaack: AP's Meaningless Weekly Reminder of Highest Level of Unemployment Claims During Recession

After a two-year hiatus, the Associated Press has apparently decided that Americans need a weekly reminder of how bad weekly layoffs were during the recession.

In June 2011, possibly as a result of some hectoring by yours truly, the wire service totally or almost totally stopped reminding readers that "(unemployment) claims applications peaked at 659,000 during the recession." That tired figure was already over two years old, and isn't even an all-time record (several weeks during the 1980s were higher, even with a much smaller workforce). So who cares? But in each of the past three weeks, AP has resurrected that tired number (since revised slightly upward because of changes to seasonal adjustment factors), as if a one-week stat from almost 4-1/2 years ago means anything to anybody right now:


(August 9, via Martin Crutsinger and Paul Wiseman)

Unemployment applications are a proxy for layoffs. At the depths of the recession, in March 2009, weekly claims surged to 670,000. They have fallen steadily ever since and are now half that level.

... Most economists say small shifts like that are normal and applications are essentially at a point where they may not fall much further.

“Readings below 300K are rare and rarely sustained,” Jonathan Basile, director of U.S. economics at Credit Suisse, wrote in a note to clients.

(August 16 [date is in URL], unbylined [sixth story at link])

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits dropped 15,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 320,000, the fewest since October 2007 – a sign of dwindling layoffs and steady if modest job growth.

... At the depth of the recession in March 2009, weekly applications for unemployment benefits numbered 670,000. They have fallen steadily ever since.

(August 22, via Christopher Rugaber)

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose last week after reaching the lowest level in 5 1/2 years. But the broader trend suggests companies are laying off fewer workers and could step up hiring in the months ahead.

... At the depths of the recession in March 2009, applications numbered 670,000.

As I showed a few days ago (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog), the idea that claims have "fallen steadily" reaching their peak is nonsense, give that there are two periods of more than seven month or so since that peak during which the four-week moving average moved up and stayed up:

4wkAverageUnempClaimsTo081013

It's also hard to see the point in reporting what AP's "expert" said in its August 16 story, namely that “Readings below 300K are rare and rarely sustained."

"Readings" are still coming in about 10% higher than that level. Additionally, as can be seen working with the reported results in the interactive table found here, weekly seasonally adjusted claims during the first half of 2006 averaged 305,400, and 12 of the 26 weeks during that period came in below 300,000. That result came during a time during which the "covered workforce" of workers who would be eligible for benefits if they were let go averaged 129.1 million, a level which is the same as the average seen so far this year (current covered employment is 129.8 million, still well below the late-2008 peak of 133.9 million).

What AP appears to be trying to tell readers is that weekly unemployment claims have gone about as low as they're going to go, and about as low as they need to go, and that just shows how much better the economy is now — So we should stop paying attention.

That's not going to happen.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.