This statement was published in response to the April 22, 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 significant distance remaining for the labor market to fully recover. After dropping precipitously the previous week, new claims for unemployment benefits slid to another pandemic low of 700,000 (NSA) last week (566,500 state and 133,500 PUA). While new layoffs have slowed considerably, they are still nowhere near the level associated with a stable labor market.
The larger concern is that there are still 17.4 million workers filing ongoing claims for benefits, a figure that actually registered higher than last week (excluding erratic data from California, total continued claims are actually down). Workers are proceeding back to work as ongoing claims are down 13.4 percent from their high earlier in the year (on February 20). The problem isn’t that unemployed workers are not accepting jobs, but rather that the number of jobless people far outpaces the number of suitable job openings.
Long-term unemployment is falling the slowest. Both PEUC claims (5.6 million, up 446,000) and PUA (7.3 million, up 256,000) have remained exceedingly high and in nearly all states, there are many more workers on emergency pandemic benefits than there are on state benefits. Ongoing claims for state benefits (the short-term unemployed) registered at 3.8 million last week, another pandemic low—but still approaching twice the pre-pandemic level.
Even in the best-case scenario, the number of workers collecting unemployment benefits won’t return to non-recession levels for many months. The extra benefits from unemployment has triggered a virtuous cycle of consumer spending and strong economic growth that is the envy of the world. It is up to Congress to keep that aid going until the economy is on a firm footing.