Initial claims for unemployment insurance level off but remain near historical highs

By Michael Horrigan, Jim Robey, Katie Bolter and Gerrit Anderson

April 9, 2020

For the week ending April 4, the number of initial claim filings for unemployment insurance (UI) after seasonal adjustment was 6,606,000, a decrease of 261,000 from the prior week’s (revised) record high of 6,867,000. Before seasonal adjustment, the number of initial filings was 6,203,359, an increase of 187,538 from the previous week.

Overall, the last three weeks have seen an extraordinary influx of workers losing their jobs and filing UI claims that has accompanied state-ordered business closures and stay-at-home orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As shown in Chart 1, from March 15, when the recent surge of initial claims began, through April 4, the total number of initial filings (excluding seasonal adjustment) has been 15.139 million. This represents 10 percent of payroll employment in March, as reported last week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Time series chart

Nine states had initial claims levels exceeding 200,000—almost the national average earlier this year. California had the most claims (925,450), followed by Georgia (388,175), Michigan (384,844), New York (345,246), Texas (313,832), Pennsylvania (283,718), Ohio (224,182), New Jersey (213,897) and Illinois (200,940). In contrast to the last two weeks, where nearly all states experienced surges in initial claims, only 60 percent of states saw filings increase from the previous week. These states included Georgia (254,000 more claims than the previous week) and Michigan (80,000 more).

It is also informative to look at the cumulative number of initial filings since the surge began during the week of March 15. The map below provides a visual depiction of cumulative claims over this period across states. To show magnitudes on a common scale, claims are shown as a percentage of the state’s average payroll employment over the past 12 months. Of the ten most populous states, five have cumulative initial claims that exceed 10 percent of employment: Michigan (18.4 percent), Pennsylvania (17.6 percent), Ohio (12.4 percent), California (12.4 percent) and Georgia (11.6 percent). The other five most populous states are North Carolina (8.8 percent), New York and Illinois (both 8.1 percent), Florida (5.3 percent) and Texas (1.9 percent).

Map of state UI claims ratio

Based on data provided by the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency, the table below provides a breakdown of initial claims in Michigan by major industry. Manufacturing had just under 60,000 initial claims last week; despite accounting for the largest share of claims, it still registered a decrease of over 22,000 from the week before. This decline was largely driven by Transportation Equipment Manufacturing, which fell 16,500 from the week before.  Accommodation and Food Services had 42,307 initial claims, an increase of 12,529 over the prior week. Retail Trade also accounted for a large share, coming in at 41,973, an increase of 9,352 over last week. Within Health Care and Social Assistance, Hospitals saw initial claims of 5,617, an increase of over 3,000 from the week before.

Over the past three weeks, initial claims have been heavily concentrated in Manufacturing (18.4 percent), Accommodation and Food Services (14.2 percent), and Retail Trade (9.9 percent). Transportation Equipment Manufacturing alone represents 7 percent of total claims filed since March 15th. Administrative and Support Services (6.2 percent), which includes Temporary Help Services, and Ambulatory Health Care Services (5.9 percent), which includes doctor and dentist offices, also account for large shares.

Across Michigan counties, Wayne had the most initial claims, at 74,228, followed by Oakland (46,938), Macomb (44,850), Kent (25,632), Genesee (17,517), Ottawa (11,291), and Washtenaw (9,621). Most counties saw increases over the previous week, but at slower rates than in the prior two weeks. Macomb County’s 44,850 claims represented a 14.3 percent increase over the 39,243 claims the week before; in the week prior, however, claims had increased from 14,906 to 39,243, an increase of 163 percent.

The map below depicts the levels of these claims by Michigan county. Each county is colored in one of five shades of green. For example, the darkest green is used for counties whose initial claims last week were at least 10,000.

Map of MI county initial claims


Kathleen Bolter headshot

Kathleen Bolter

Project Manager, Policies for Place Initiative

Research Topics: Labor Market Issues