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What unemployment claims can tell us about tomorrow’s jobs report

A pedestrian walks by The Family Barbershop, closed due to a Gov. Gretchen Whitmer executive order, in Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., Thursday, April 2, 2020. The coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak has triggered a stunning collapse in the U.S. workforce with millions of people losing their jobs in the past two weeks and economists warn unemployment could reach levels not seen since the Depression, as the economic damage from the crisis piles up around the world.
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
Fewer and fewer businesses are able to keep people employed.
  • David Yanofsky
By David Yanofsky

Editor of code, visuals, and data

We learned today that in the last two weeks, 9.96 million people have filed for unemployment insurance benefits in the US. Tomorrow the US government releases the official US employment figures for the first time since millions of Americans were ordered to close their businesses and stay at home.

Those two figures—initial jobless claims and non-farm payrolls—are, of course, related. A large portion of people who lose their jobs can be expected to file for unemployment benefits. The trend is reflected in the data:

Each dot in the chart represents one month of data. When there was more job growth in that month, it’s closer to the top. When there was less, it’s closer to the bottom. The total number of initial jobless claims in a month is represented by how far right or left it is — the higher the claims, the farther the dot is to the right.

The last month’s mass layoffs and business closures are unprecedented. In the last four weeks, 10.4 million people have made claims for unemployment. To get a sense of just how far outside the norm that is, let’s extend the scale of this chart a bit to show where 10.4 million falls. This should help you see what kind of jobs report we might be delivered tomorrow.

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