This statement was published in response to the April 15, 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 underscores the major task ahead for the nation—getting millions of people back to work. The good news is a major drop in seasonal adjusted initial claims to state benefits to 576,000, the lowest level since the pandemic broke out a year ago. In total, there are still an exceedingly high 745,000 total initial claims for benefits, after a decline of 147,500 last week. Nonetheless, initial claims now appear to finally be on an overall downward trajectory, as the vaccine program leads to long-overdue improvements in the economy and a decline in layoffs.
The other key indicator of short-term unemployment, continued claims, also continued its consistent decline. Continued claims for state benefits were down 88,000 to 3.9 million, the first time that the raw number of claims has been below 4 million since last March 21, 2020. Despite consternation and claims to the contrary, people receiving unemployment are steadily getting back to work—but there is a steep hill to climb.
UI payments were $9.1 billion last week, down just 20 percent from the recent high of $11.4 billion on February 12th. These payouts are primarily going to the long-term unemployed on PEUC and PUA, and that remains largely unchanged. PEUC was down 474,000 to 5.2 million, and PUA tipped 501,000 lower to 7.1 million. The long-term unemployed face the largest barriers to return to work, as they have been displaced from industries with the most obstacles to a healthy return, or they face care obligations or other COVID-related reasons that have not been resolved. It is going to take much broader and sustained labor market and vaccine progress before the reduction in recipients of long-term pandemic benefits catches up to trends in state unemployment aid.
Altogether, there are 16.9 million on one form of unemployment benefits or another. Even in the best-case scenario, all of these nearly 17 million unemployment recipients will not be back to work by September when the current federal benefits expire. Senator Wyden and Bennet took a great, necessary step forward this week with a new proposal to add automatic triggers into the permanent UI program. As Congress considers how to build back from the pandemic, they must include fixes to the system that got us through the pandemic, and now must be healed for challenges ahead.