Why Almost 3.2 Million Weekly Jobless Claims Almost Has Good News for Unemployment

The COVID-19 pandemic managed to destroy what had been arguably the greatest jobs market in American history. There have now been roughly 30 million combined jobless applications through the U.S. Department of Labor in the past two months alone. Somehow, some way, the Labor Department’s report of 3.169 million jobless claims for the week ending May 2, 2020, actually might have some good news in it.

The change on a week-over-week basis was down by 677,000. The consensus estimate from Dow Jones (Wall Street Journal) was 3.05 million claims, and it was 3.04 million from Econoday. ADP’s report of more than 20.2 million jobs lost in April also appears to be an understatement.

Also worth noting was that the prior week’s report was revised up by 7,000 jobless claims to 3.846 million, but the four-week average was down 861,500 to 4,173,500.

The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was up 3.1 percentage points at 15.5% for the week ending April 25. Continuing jobless claims, reported with a one-week lag, were up over 4.6 million to 22,647,000.

Some market observers are choosing to look now at the unadjusted numbers because they show the absolute numbers at a time when every additional or less claim matters. The Labor Department reported that the total people claiming benefits in state programs was up by 4.24 million (up 23.8%) to 22,035,753. Seasonal factors had expected a decrease of 270,167 (about −1.5%) from the previous week.

With April’s unemployment data due on Friday, the writing on the wall should be in bright red, telling just how weak the numbers are going to be. Unemployment will be at depression-era levels and worse than anyone younger than Warren Buffett has even seen.

The Econoday consensus estimate for this Friday’s Labor Department report is −21.25 million in nonfarm payrolls. At Dow Jones, the consensus calls for 21.5 million jobs lost, and the unemployment rate is expected to rise to at least 16% for April alone.

Neel Kashkari, president of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, has been quoted as saying that the real unemployment rate may jump to 16% to 17% for April. He also noted that, because of how people are surveyed and when they are surveyed, the real rate of unemployment might be 23% to 24%.

There may some silver linings here, in spite of this atrocious weekly jobless claims report and in spite of Friday’s unemployment report. This goes well beyond the belief that worse and worse economic reports will lead to even more economic stimulus.

It is very possible that the April to May reports will mark the bottom, or the worst of the worst reports. The economy is gradually reopening for business, and stores and restaurants slowly are being allowed to open their doors. Many small businesses have received their Paycheck Protection Program loans already and have begun bringing some of their workers back.

Nothing sounds like a V-bottom in the actual economy, even if the stock market’s V-bottom from the end of March has seen close to two-thirds of the major index losses recovered. Still, whether the recovery is a U-shape or any other shape, the consensus has become that a recovery will be seen in the not-so-distant future.