This statement was published in response to the April 8, 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 delivered mixed messages this week. There were another 892,500 new applications for unemployment benefits (down 67,000) last week. New weekly claims have been below the stratospheric 1 million mark for three straight weeks, signalling a new stage of the jobs recovery. Nonetheless, the 741,000 new claims for state benefits have been up for the past two weeks in a row and remain 3.5 times as high as pre-pandemic levels, with increases coming in states like New York and Michigan, which are still wrestling with the pandemic.
The same overall downward trend is reflected in the number of short-term unemployed already on state unemployment benefits. On a not seasonally adjusted basis, there are only 4 million state continued claims, and this group has shrunk by 26 percent since the beginning of the year. While short-term unemployment is steadily decreasing, long-term unemployment remains high: there are a total of 14 million on one of three extended benefits programs.
There’s good news in that series, too. Today’s figures for PEUC and PUA reflect data from one week after the passage of the American Rescue Plan, and provide the best evidence yet of any possible delays in implementing the new law. Continued claims for PEUC benefits were actually up 117,000 to 5.6 million. Claims for PUA benefits were up 203,000 to 7.6 million, but excluding California (which continues to report erratic data), they were down slightly by 300,000 in the rest of the country. In contrast, our research indicates that the December stimulus bill covered 38 percent fewer weeks of unemployment in January than if it had run smoothly. Whatever delays in turning claims into payments that are occurring with the American Rescue Plan pale in comparison to the December stimulus.
The American Rescue Plan is now in full effect and there are still 18 million workers receiving unemployment aid. Even if the labor market can repeat the bang up performance it delivered in March, there are still many months ahead until this growth will reach a majority of the long-term unemployed. Congress needs to be prepared to continue unemployment benefits past September 6, and should link any phase out to real, documented improvements in virus transmission and the overall unemployment rate. Congress and the administration should heed the lessons of 2020 and translate the frustrating experiences of getting benefits into permanent reforms to the UI system.