This statement was published in response to the April 27, 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.
With the news today that 3.8 million workers filed new unemployment claims in the week ending April 25, the United States hit a grim milestone that just months ago seemed unimaginable: more than 30 million workers, or 1 in 5 members of the covered workforce, have lost their jobs and filed for unemployment in the last six weeks. The COVID-19 crisis has made us accustomed and de-sensitized to previously unthinkable phenomena, but today marks a tough reality for our country and for American workers.
Thankfully, for now, the economic contagion seems to have plateaued, with the number of new weekly claims falling for the third week in a row. But we’re still at a level that is a mortal threat to the nation’s financial well-being and a moral emergency for policymakers. The real question now is how many of these millions of workers flooding into state unemployment systems make it out to the other side with a payment.
As my colleague Amanda Novello and I reported on Tuesday, by the end of March, only 1.7 of the 11.7 million regular claims newly filed that month (14%) had received a payment. There are signs that things have improved through the month of April, however, even though we don’t yet have hard data on payments. For instance, the number of workers counted as “insured unemployment” has risen from 7.5 million on March 28 to 18 million by April 18. The latest calculation is that 64 percent of all initial filers have had their claims processed and are being paid, set up to be paid, or are considered pending as fact-finding is completed.
An unprecedented number of Americans will rely on jobless payments during this acute phase of the crisis. “It’s imperative that states move through these claims and deliver payments as efficiently as possible, especially for the millions of gig workers and college students who will file for new pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA) that is just now being made available. The recovery will continue to be extremely painful for months to come, as businesses crippled by lack of sales struggle to reopen and possible next-waves of the virus result in further economic shutdowns.
Worse, governors in states like Tennessee, South Carolina and Iowa look to force tens of thousands of workers off of unemployment and back into jobs, even though many of them do not have sufficient safety standards in place to keep them safe from the coronavirus. But even in these states, the reality is that many workers won’t be called back to their job if the economy reopens. One tool that employers have to bring their workers back part-time while still collecting UI is short-time compensation—but just 62,000 workers are currently in such plans. Congress should move quickly to extend the unemployment benefits offered under the CARES Act, recognizing that difficult times will last far longer than originally anticipated.