Friday, January 01, 2016

Hold the Celebration on Record Low Unemployment Insurance Claims

Dec. 27, 2015

The NYT headlined an article on the drop in unemployment insurance claims, "Jobless claims near 42-year low as labor market tightens." While it would be good news if fewer people were filing for unemployment insurance because they were not losing their jobs, this is only part of the story behind the drop in claims. Due to tighter restrictions on unemployment insurance, a much smaller share of the unemployed are eligible for benefits than in prior decades.

For example, in the most recent month, just under 2.2 million people were collecting benefits out of 7.9 million unemployed, which means that 29.1 percent of the unemployed were collected benefits. If we go back to November of 1973 (42 years ago), 1.7 million people were getting benefits out of unemployed population of 4.3 million, for a ratio of 39.5 percent.

Part of the drop in claims in recent years is due to the improvement in the labor market, but part of the decline is due to fewer people being eligible. One can debate whether the tighter restrictions are desirable, but this is clearly a separate issue from a tightening of the labor market.

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