This statement was published in response to the February 25, 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.
As Congress enters a crucial phase in negotiating the American Rescue Plan, the takeaways from today’s Labor Department report cannot be overlooked. While the number of new unemployment claims has oscillated around the 1 million mark for weeks, the reality is that some 19 million Americans—nearly 1 of every 8 workers—are currently collecting unemployment benefits (to say nothing of the many more who are out of the labor force and/or not collecting UI, for a host of reasons). In other words, the unemployment situation is far more dire than what a surface-glance look at today’s data may convey.
Today’s report shows that new applications for unemployment came in at 1.16 million last week (710,000 state and 451,000 PUA), the 49th straight week that new claims have capped 1 million. New claims for state benefits (NSA) dropped down to their lowest level during the pandemic. Continuing claims for state benefits ticked down to 4.83 million, but are only 8 percent lower than they were three months ago.
After dropping last week, the number of workers filing for PEUC benefits surged to 5.07 million (up 1.0 million), and that number is likely to stay elevated until benefits begin to expire on March 14. Even more workers are turning to the PUA program, which came in at 7.52 million last week, after a modest decline (167,000). And these figures don’t include another 1.39 million long-term unemployed workers who are on the federal-state Extended Benefits (EB) program.
While the rate of new COVID-19 infections continues to fall, and the availability of vaccines increases, unemployed workers are yet to feel any real progress. This should come as no surprise; it’s how our economy typically works. Historically, improvements in economy-wide conditions take months to translate into tangible improvements in the lives of working people—meaning that we can expect unemployment claims to stay elevated, even as we make our way out of the thralls of the pandemic.
This is why it’s so important to secure enhanced unemployment aid through the end of September—and quickly, before 11.4 million people begin to see their benefits expire come March 14. With the number of long-term unemployed workers climbing so rapidly, congressional leaders cannot barter with the lives of struggling workers in order to trim the $1.9 trillion rescue package.