The number of people who joined the unemployment lines went up again last week, and that's terrible news for housing.
People filed initial unemployment claims at a seasonally-adjusted rate of 460,000 in the week ending April 3. That's an increase of 18,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 442,000. Even the 4-week moving average, which smooths out volatility, was up 2,250, to 450,250 a week, from the previous week's revised average of 448,000, according to the Department of Labor.
Economists and experts have their apologies and excuses ready to explain this latest report: The initial unemployment claims data often has its ups and downs, especially in the week leading up to Easter and the two weeks that follow. Because Easter doesn't fall on the same day every year, it's a challenge to get the seasonal adjustment right, according to coverage in Business Week.
But at this point in our tough economic times, the housing market could really use some clear, unambiguous improvement in employment. More than a million people are at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure - many because they lost their jobs and can't find new ones.
As I've noted before, the seasonally-adjusted rate of initial unemployment claims has stagnated in the 400,000s since the end of last year. Economists say that a rate of about 450,000 a week represents a job market that is neither getting much better or much worse.
As of the week ending March 20th, 5.6 million people were receiving emergency unemployment benefits because they have already used up their year of regular benefits and are still unemployed. That's down more than 300,000 from the week before, but still twice the number of people claiming emergency benefits a year ago.
The federal government is scrambling to prevent foreclosures by restructuring loans through programs like the Home Affordable Modification Program. However, the best foreclosure prevention program would be a few million good, well-paying jobs.
Photo: The Single Men's Unemployed Association parading to Bathurst Street United Church, circa 1930. Toronto, Canada. Wikimedia Commons.