Thursday, May 21, 2009
Unemployment Claims In Relative Context
Today's report on unemployment claims wasn't particularly heartening and no claim here that the end to the climb is near. But all the talk about record levels is getting a bit ahead of the story. The chart above compares the level of claims to the level as a percent of workers covered by unemployment insurance. The rate (red line, left scale) is effectively 5.0%. During the 1981-82 recession the rate peaked at 5.4% and during the 1974-75 recession the rate peaked at 7%.
While this is the worst downturn since the 80-82 recession period, to claim record levels is to ignore the record level of employment and population. In sum, the economy has not reached the rate of unemployment of the earlier recessions yet alone rates suggestive of a depression. To get to 5.4% another 535,000 workers would need to join the claims line and to reach 7.0% about 2.7 million more workers would need to be displaced. From where I sit, odds of another 3 million people being thrown out of work (5 more months of +600,000) seem small.