Initial unemployment claims reached their lowest level since March 2020 last week, as the number of firings and other voluntary separations slowed further in the recovering economy. New filings totaled 290,000 during the week ended Oct. 16, closing in on a pre-virus average of just over 200,000 throughout 2019.
The job picture has improved markedly at the national level over the course of 2021, aided by a pick-up in economic activity as vaccinations took place and businesses reopened at scale. However, some states are still showing levels of unemployment notably above the national average, as measured by their latest insured unemployment rates.
The national insured unemployment rate was at 1.7%, not seasonally adjusted, as of the week ended Oct. 2, marking a slight move lower from the previous week's 1.8% rate. The insured unemployment rate captures the ratio of people claiming jobless benefits divided by the overall size of the labor force.
At the start of October, Puerto Rico overtook Illinois to log the highest insured unemployment rate for an individual state or territory in the nation. Puerto Rico's rate remained unchanged for the week ended Oct. 2 at 4.3%, holding above the 4.0% level for three consecutive months after a brief improvement to below 3% in the spring. The territory's insured unemployment rate had peaked during the pandemic era at 26.8% in late June 2020.
Illinois's insured unemployment rate fell notably to 3.5% from 4.4% for the week ended Oct. 2. However, this still marked the second-highest in the nation.
California rounded out the top-three regions with the highest insured unemployment rates at 3.3%, with this level coming in unchanged compared to the week prior. Still, this marked a significant improvement from its pandemic-era high rate of 27.8% from April 2020, when widespread stay-in-place orders took effect in the state. California, Illinois and Puerto Rico have remained the three areas with the highest insured unemployment rates for three consecutive weeks.
Other states with elevated insured unemployment rates included Hawaii and the District of Columbia, which both posted rates of 3.0% as of early October. Both also represented slight increases compared to their rates from a week earlier, when Hawaii had posted a rate of 2.9%, and D.C. saw a rate of 2.6%.
On the other hand, a number of other states also had insured unemployment rates well below the national average. South Dakota's rate was the lowest in the nation, coming in at 0.2% for an unchanged reading from the prior week. Alabama had the second-lowest insured unemployment rate at 0.3%, also unchanged from a week earlier. The third-lowest rate was a four-way tie between Idaho, Nebraska, North Dakota and Utah, which each posted insured unemployment rates of 0.4% during the beginning of October.
Emily McCormick is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @emily_mcck