Data show continued unemployment claims stuck at high level


Tennessee’s continued unemployment claims have pulled back very little since peaking in late April.

WJHL – Ongoing unemployment claims in Tennessee have remained in a persistently narrow band through May, very close to their peak of 324,000 in the week ended April 24. That suggests that the one-month record-high unemployment rate for April of 14.7 percent may not dip much in May.

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development (TDL) announced Thursday morning that continuing claims totaled 310,126. That number is just 4.3 percent lower than the peak, with one week of May remaining.

The picture is a tiny bit less cloudy in Northeast Tennessee. Continued claims of 16,133 announced Thursday are down 13.2 percent from their April 25 peak of 18,595.

New claims for the latest week totaled 902, slightly above the week before. But those totals have been about one-sixth of their April 4 peak of 6,419 each of the past three weeks.

New weekly claims have fallen farther from their peak of 116,000 the week ending April 4, but have stayed stubbornly in the 26,000 to 29,000 range the past several weeks. The flat continued claims total suggests the number of people returning to jobs isn’t much more than the number of newly unemployed, yet.

Not better in NE TN — just less bad

Comparing the most severe four weeks of new claims to the past five weeks shows a few differences between Northeast Tennessee and the state as a whole:

  • Tennessee averaged 88,593 new claims in the four weeks from March 28 through April 18.
  • Tennessee has averaged 33,030 new claims in the five weeks since April 25 — a 62.7 percent decrease.
  • Northeast Tennessee averaged 5,220 new claims in the four weeks from March 28 through April 18.
  • Northeast Tennessee has averaged 1,407 new claims in the five weeks since April 25 — a 73.0 percent decrease.
  • Northeast Tennessee’s March unemployment rate of 3.7 percent was higher than the state rate of 3.5 percent.
  • Northeast Tennessee’s April unemployment rate of 14.3 percent was lower than Tennessee’s rate of 14.7 percent.
  • Northeast Tennessee’s total number employed dropped 13.0 percent from March to April, while statewide that decline was 15.4 percent.
  • The number of people in Northeast Tennessee’s workforce declined 2.8 percent from March to April compared to a 9.5 percent decline statewide.

The bottom line, as noted in TDL’s release on unemployment rates today, is this: “The unprecedented and historic spike in unemployment impacted some counties more drastically than others, but no area of Tennessee escaped the pandemic’s effect on the state’s workforce.”

Until the number of people finding new jobs are being recalled to work each week begins to significantly exceed the number filing new claims for unemployment, those staggeringly high unemployment rates are likely to persist. That certainly looks like it will be the case for May.

During the Great Recession, Tennessee’s statewide unemployment rate peaked at 10.9 percent in June 2009. It was still above 8 percent nearly four years later before beginning a steady decline that brought it below 4 percent for the first time in April 2017.

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