The four-week running average, which flattens volatility in the weekly figure and is thus seen by experts as a more useful gauge of the actual situation, rose to 365,750. Both the weekly figures and those of the four-week average have been bouncing around the past few weeks because of weather and holiday-related reporting by the states. In such cases, the department of labor estimates the number of new claims, and then adjusts them in coming weeks when actual figures are available.
For most of 2012, first-time claims fell within a range between 360,000 and 390,000. For the comparable week of last year, those claims were, in fact, 390,000. The next week they fell to 364,000. The high point for the year was 451,000 for the week ending Nov. 10, reflecting the impact of Hurricane Sandy. The low point came just a month later, for the week ending Dec. 8, when first-time claims fell to 344,000.
In all programs, including the emergency federal extensions, a total of 5,356,271 Americans were receiving unemployment benefits for the week ending Dec. 22. In the comparable week of 2011, 7,333,322 were receiving benefits. Had it not been for the last minute rescue in the budget negotiations last month, some two million jobless people would have lost their federally funded unemployment benefits at the end of last year. Even so, just over a third of out-of-work Americans are now receiving unemployment benefits because others either have exhausted their benefits or were never eligible for them in the first place.