This statement was published in response to the December 17, 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.

Today’s Labor Department report comes as Congress is on the precipice of either passing an overdue stimulus package or sending more than 12 million jobless workers over a dire benefits cliff. As Congress reaches for a deal, the labor market, like most things with the pandemic, is getting worse before it gets better. In the week ending December 12, layoffs continued to sharply crest as new claims came in at 1.39 million (935,000 state-NSA and 455,000 federal), up slightly from last week and reaching the highest level since September 19. The impact of the pandemic surfaced in states like California and Illinois, which are seeing increased layoffs in food services, administrative/temporary employment and retail sectors impacted by public health restrictions.

The worsening jobs situation comes as 14 million workers are on two major federal CARES Act programs—PUA (9.2 million) and PEUC (4.8 million)—that will end in a little over a week. PEUC benefits reached a record level on November 28th, up 270,000 for the week, and PUA claims are the highest since October 24th. These ongoing claims (data lagged by three weeks) are actually trending higher than our original forecast of 12 million workers by the end of next month who would go without any guarantee of federal support to make it through the terrible economic winter. New data from Columbia University finds that 4.8 million (including 1.3 million children) more Americans will fall into poverty in January if these benefits are allowed to expire—exposing them to hardships that can have deep and lasting negative effects.

The one indicator that is falling is continued claims for state benefits, which came in at 5.5 million. That is down by 300,000 over the last week and 6.9 million since September 1, as millions burn through their eligibility for state help. These long term unemployed workers now rely solely on PEUC, and for those unemployed the longest, the smaller EB program (694,000), which is also in dire jeopardy in many states.

With the vaccine still months away from being fully available, the needs of the unemployed are not going away any time soon. Congress can not let competing priorities shortchange the unemployed. If lawmakers pass a benefits package that is too meager in aid and too short in duration, millions of workers would once again hit a wall before the economy is able to open up enough for those displaced by COVID to get back to work. The suffering of the pandemic is concentrated among the unemployed, especially large numbers of low-wage, workers of color, and aid must be directed at these families without delay. It’s past time for Congress to seal the deal.