Initial unemployment claims jumped about 80,000 last week to 439,000. This is almost certainly an outlier due to Hurricane Sandy, which disrupted both the NYC and Philadelphia metro areas with a combined population of about 30 million people, or almost 10% of the entire country's population.
The exact same thing happened after Hurricane Katrina, which struck at the end of August in 2005. Here's the graph of initial claims starting with January 1, 2004:
See that spike of about 120,000 late in 2005? Those are the first two full weeks in September, right after Katrina. After that claims returned to their more typical readings.
This spike of 80,000 isn't quite so bad. If after a couple of weeks it hasn't returned below 380,000, then I'd be concerned. This week's increase isn't worth worrying about.
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The Bonddad Economic History Project
At the beginning of 2012, I decided to start looking at the actual, statistical history of the US economy starting in 1950. The reason is simple: to find out what really happened. So, when you see title of a post that begins with a year such as 1957, followed by "employment" or "Fed policy: you know what it's for. You can also access the information by typing in BE for Bonddad econ and a year to find information on a particular year.
Here is a link to pages that contain links to all the posts on the years listed.