This statement was published in response to the February 11, 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 revealed a jobs market that is slowly steadying, but not improving quickly enough to help the more than 11 million jobless workers facing a benefits cliff in roughly one month. The good news was that initial claims for state benefits declined for the fourth consecutive week, coming in at 813,000 NSA, down 36,500 from last week and by 299,000 since spiking on January 9. Still, when 334,500 new applications for federal PUA benefits are factored in, there were a total of more than 1 million applicants for UI for the 47th consecutive week.
While the progress of vaccination efforts has stymied an increase in new layoffs in December, the rate at which unemployed workers are finding new jobs and exiting the jobless rolls has yet to keep pace. New claims for state benefits have fallen by 27 percent over the past four weeks, but continued claims have only dropped by 3.6 percent to 5.16 million. Millions of workers collecting state benefits now have no assurance of being able to collect an extension of aid since the December stimulus begins to expire on March 14.
Fortunately, we are now keenly aware of the steep price of delaying an extension of benefits, having seen states take three weeks to get jobless Americans re-enrolled in the PUA and PEUC programs after they expired on December 26. These programs both surged during the week ending January 23, by 1.5 million for PUA and 1.2 million for PEUC. These programs have now surpassed their level of enrollment at the end of 2020 (now at 8.7 million continued claims for PUA and 4.8 million for PEUC). While today’s data only tracked pandemic claims through January 23, the most recent Treasury Department data show that states are indeed catching up and delivered $11.4 billion in aid as of the week ending February 5.
TCF’s latest report projects that pandemic benefit claims will start reflecting those figures and steadily grow by the March 14 cut off. At that point, 11.4 million workers will lose access to PUA (6.4M) or PEUC (5.0M) between March 14 and April 10. Fewer than 750,000 of those workers will have any support beyond April from the federal-state Extended Benefits (EB) program.
Congressional Democrats passed a bill through committee that would keep these benefits going through August 29, which President Biden has already cited as a key and urgent national priority. The question now is whether Congress looks carefully at the lagging claims numbers and passes an extension of unemployment benefits soon enough to avoid another plagued rollout of aid.