This statement was published in response to the December 10, 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 comes as Congress labors to get out of its own way and enact legislation on behalf of millions of Americans set to lose unemployment benefits in just two weeks. As a result of social distancing restrictions enacted to contain the relentless surge of COVID-19 infections, the number of new jobless claims jumped up to 1.4 million last week, including an increase of 229,000 in new claims for state benefits, up to a whopping 948,000 last week alone (NSA), alongside an increase of 139,000 new claims for federal PUA benefits. That’s the highest level of claims since September 19th. Not surprisingly, claims jumped in California, Illinois, Texas and Pennsylvania: states that have been hit especially hard by the third wave of the pandemic.
These new claims come on top of the 18.9 million Americans filing ongoing claims for benefits. Among this group, 13.1 million are on two federal CARES Act programs—PEUC (4.5 million) and PUA (8.6 million)—that both expire on December 26. As more and more workers are without work for long periods, workers are increasingly counting on federal programs for the long-term unemployed: 4.5 million on PEUC and another 615,000 on the EB program. What’s more, most of those claiming PUA are near the end of their 39-week cap, with some already being tossed from the program (continuing claims were down 314,000 last week).
After serving to triage the entire economy for the better part of nine months, the imminent end of jobless pay would eviscerate the unemployment safety net at one of the most difficult periods in our nation’s history. With the CARES Act ended, all that would remain would be the core state UI programs, which have benefits that are far too limited (maxing out at 26 weeks) and far too meager (an average of $318 per week) to keep the economy afloat.
Level-headed leaders, including the bipartisan ‘Gang of 8,’ have forged a framework to extend aid for these families, including a 16-week extension of PEUC and PUA benefits and a $300 weekly federal supplement to all those out of work. It is far from a perfect compromise: Indeed, even J.P. Morgan Chase, our nation’s largest bank, has publicly underscored the importance of the $600 top-up in keeping our economy and families above water. Still, the compromise is a down payment jobless workers need before the end of the year—something at a time when tens of millions are in desperate need of help, looking to their government for even a modicum of humanity.
Sadly, President Trump and Senate majority leader McConnell have sought to torpedo these talks, confirming that even the bare minimum is too sour for their tastes. Instead, they’ve announced a sideshow proposal that would provide nearly nothing new in unemployment benefits. With American families teetering on the brink of crises, including a looming tsunami of homelessness and food insecurity, unemployed workers have no time left for shenanigans. Congress must act, and embrace the bipartisan compromise. It is—quite literally—the least our government can do for its people.