This statement was published in response to the April 1, 2021 release of jobs numbers by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For the most up-to-date data please visit TCF’s comprehensive UI data dashboard here.
Today’s Labor Department report reveals both signs of hope as well as reminders of significant economic challenges ahead. For the second consecutive week, fewer than one million workers claimed benefits (714,000 state and 237,000 PUA), and DOL reported that the four-week average of traditional state claims was the lowest it has been since March 14, 2020.
After a small increase from the previous week, the 951,500 new claims remain more than four times pre-pandemic levels. Nonetheless, the downward trend in claims foreshadows a positive jobs report on Friday, in line with predictions of a half millions jobs added in March alone.
But even at that rapid clip, it would take the economy until January 2024 to get back to pre-pandemic trends. This cold, hard math underscores the hurdles facing the 18.2 million workers still on state or federal jobless aid as they seek to return to productive work. While the number of workers on traditional state benefits has been declining steadily to 4.1 million (down 14 percent over the last month), the number on PUA (7.3 million, down 495,000 last week) and PEUC (5.5 million, down 705,000 last week) have remained sky high. Nearly all of the downward trend last week reflects big swings in California, while the rest of the nation is steady. Even a strong month of job growth won’t signal enough economic muscle to move record numbers of UI recipients off the jobless rolls.
To their credit, states have done a better job keeping benefits flowing during the transition to the American Rescue Plan than in December. Treasury data indicate that benefit payouts over the last two weeks are only down by 10 percent from early March, compared to a 38 percent drop in January from expected levels.
President Biden’s ‘Build Back Better’ plan announced yesterday is one concrete way Washington can accelerate the rate of job growth during the recovery. But the impact of these investments won’t be felt before the current extension of pandemic benefits is sharply cut off on September 6. Already, sympathy for the unemployed is waning, as states like Ohio are proposing slashing unemployment pay to levels lower than before the pandemic. Without further federal action, it’s clear that workers will be pushed to the curb before the jobs recovery has genuinely taken hold. It’s critical for Congress to add a continuation of this aid back into the next recovery package, with phase-out provisions linked directly to economic and public health conditions.