(CNN) — First-time weekly claims for unemployment benefits jumped to 240,000 for the week ended November 19, according to data released Wednesday by the Department of Labor. That’s a sharp increase of 17,000 from the previous week’s upwardly revised tally of 222,000, and surpasses economists’ expectations of 225,000.
It’s the highest weekly total since August 13, according to Labor Department data.
Continuing claims, which count people who have filed for jobless aid for at least two weeks in a row, rose to 1.55 million for the week ending November 12, notching an eight-month high.
The number of unemployment claims have been hovering near historic lows due to a labor market that has remained considerably tight, even as workers flooded back after the end of pandemic-era lockdowns.
But that could be changing — and in short order: Large companies, notably some of the biggest names in tech, have started conducting mass layoffs.
Yet, those layoffs aren’t necessarily reflected in last week’s claims, as many of the tech industry’s workers are covered by severance payments, said Eugenio Alemán, chief economist for Raymond James. Alemán said he’s looking for signs of a broad-based increase in claims from other industries, in which workers aren’t typically covered by severance payments.“And that is still not happening today,” he said.
Weekly jobless claims are volatile — especially around the holidays — and frequently revised, economists for Oxford Economics wrote in a note Wednesday.
“Therefore, we don’t read too much into the larger-than-anticipated drop in claims,” they wrote.
On average, weekly initial jobless claims have been below 215,000 this year. And while the 240,000 in claims for last week is an increase from that average, it is still below the 250,000 weekly claims consistent with a good economy and far below the 300,000-plus consistent with recession, Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s analytics, wrote via email to CNN Business.
“I view the increase in layoffs from the prism of ‘bad news is good news,’ ” he wrote. “That is, layoffs are awful for those losing their jobs, but it does mean the job market is cooling off, which is critical to getting inflation back down and forestalling more aggressive interest rates hikes by the Federal Reserve.”
Zandi said he expects to see more layoffs as we head into the new year “as large companies in more industries begin to pare back their payrolls.”