The level of initial jobless claims fell modestly in the April 4 week, but the current week’s total lifted the number of new claims filed over the last three weeks to 16.780 million, the Labor Department reported Thursday.
The level of initial claims fell by 261,000 to a still very high 6.606 million in the April 4 week, reflecting not only further layoffs, but also backlogged filings from the previous week.
With millions of workers overloading the system and federal government add-ons to state benefits, these numbers will continue to climb for a few more weeks.
The consensus forecast was for a 5.00 million level following an upward revised 6.867 million level in the previous week. Unadjusted claims rose by 187,538 in the current week.
The Labor Department again cited the virus impact on the data but did not specify which industries were the key drivers, suggesting the gains were widespread.
Backlogs and delayed filings added to gains in many states affected by COVID-19 shutdowns, particularly Georgia. Unadjusted filings in New York and California fell slightly from the previous week, but were still at extremely high levels.
Continuing claims, the total number of people currently receiving benefits, rose by 4.396 million to a record 7.455 million in the March 28 week.
Even when the pace of new initial claims slows, the level of those receiving benefits, will be elevated for several months. Some workers will return to their old jobs, while others may need to find new ones, lengthening their time on benefits.
Also released Thursday morning, the final demand Producer Price Index fell by 0.2% in March, compared with an expectation for a 0.3% decline. The BLS said the pricing date for PPI was March 10, making it largely irrelevant in measuring virus impact and that response rates for the survey were within normal parameters.
Energy prices plunged by 6.7%, in line with the sharp drops in global oil prices. Increased driving normally pushes up unadjusted energy prices in the month, which instead fell by 5.8%, so seasonal factors amplified the decline. Gasoline prices fell by 16.8%
Food prices were flat in the month. Notably, prices of frozen specialty foods surged by 4.7%. The run on supermarkets since mid-March will lead to shortages of some products, and higher prices, going forward. Consumer prices released Friday will provide more details on how much these shortages impacted prices at stores.
Excluding those volatile components, PPI was up 0.2%, above the flat reading expected. The BLS’s preferred core measure, which also excludes a 1.4% jump in trade services prices, fell 0.2% in the month.
Trade services prices were lifted by margins on several sectors, including fuels retailing even as prices plunged. Margins at securities brokers and investment advice firms also rose in one of the worst months for stock prices in history.
Through March, overall PPI prices stand only 0.7% above their year ago level, while prices excluding food and energy are up 1.4%. The loss of jobs and the closure of businesses across the country due to COVID-19 should continue to exert downward pressure on both wholesale and consumer prices for several months.