This statement was published in response to the April 23, 2020 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.

As is now the pattern, the Labor Department once again released heartbreaking news this morning, revealing that 4.4 million new workers applied for emergency relief in the week ending April 18, bringing the five-week total to 26.5 million. With the nation unable to mount the public health response needed to re-open businesses, unemployment benefits are carrying the weight and serving as the last line of defense for millions of struggling families.

In addition, there are now 16 million workers counted as insured unemployment, which is 2.4 times the previous record, meaning that they are eligible for both state benefits and the additional $600 per week, which has now started to flow in most states. While some of these insured workers may ultimately be disqualified, this could translate into as much as $16 billion in aid being delivered to families and the economy in a single week, which is more than half of the $27 billion delivered all of last year. States’ processing of claims appears to be stabilizing, too, with 71 percent of claims submitted since the start of the crisis now registering as insured unemployment.

One additional option for employers to keep people on their payrolls is work-sharing programs, which allow employers to keep workers on part-time schedules rather than lay them off. The number of work-sharing claims has risen to 39,864 in the week ending April 4, up nearly 14,000 from the previous week and up by 209% since before COVID-19.

While there is no doubt workers would prefer a paycheck to an unemployment check, returning to work given the high risk of contracting a deadly virus is no choice at all. Until worker safety procedures are stepped up and there is widespread capacity to closely track and trace future infections, America will need to count on expanded unemployment insurance, including seldomly-used programs like work-sharing, in ways it never has before.