By Jeffry Bartash, MarketWatch
Note: Massachusetts initially overstated new claims filed through the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program by 1 million. The article has been updated to reflect the corrected number.
The numbers: More than 2.4 million unemployed Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week using the traditional method of reporting initial claims, but the real number was almost 1 million higher if applicants made eligible through a new federal relief program are included.
First-time filings for unemployment insurance totaled 2.44 million last week on the traditional seasonally adjusted basis. While still way above pre-coronavirus levels, new claims have declined for seven straight weeks following the apparent peak of 6.9 million seen in late March.
Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had been looking for 2.35 million new claims in the week ending May 16.
The seasonally adjusted estimate is the number Wall Street has come to expect, but it has overstated jobless claims by several million during the coronavirus pandemic and has become less accurate.
To give a more accurate picture of unemployment, MarketWatch for the first time is also reporting jobless claims using actual, or unadjusted, figures.
New jobless claims totaled a much higher 3.3 million last week if seasonal adjustments are omitted, reflecting persistent pressure on struggling companies to slash payrolls even as the economy slowly reopens for business. ( See this congressional report for a fuller explanation .)
Nearly 2.2 million people filed initial jobless claims in the traditional way through their state unemployment offices in the seven days ended May 16. And estimated 1.1 million new claims were filed in 35 states through the federal government’s temporary Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, the Labor Department said Thursday.
What happened: Since the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns started in mid-March, some 35.5 million people have applied for jobless benefits through their states, based on actual or unadjusted totals.
Roughly 8.1 million new claims have been filed via a new federal program that has made self-employed workers and independent contractors such as writers or Uber /zigman2/quotes/211348248/composite UBER +3.46% drivers eligible for the first time ever.
Total new claims since mid-March: almost 44 million.
Not all of these people are receiving benefits, however. Some have had their applications rejected, while others found a new job and still others returned to work.
Continuing claims reported by the states, a close proxy for how many people are getting benefits, rose to an unadjusted 22.9 million from 20.9 million in the week ended May 9. These claims are reported with a one-week lag.