This statement was published in response to the January 14, 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.

Amid the ongoing turmoil in Washington, today’s dire Labor Department report is yet another reminder of the urgent people’s business facing President-elect Biden and the new Congress. New claims for jobless benefits surged to 1.44 million (up 350,000) in the week ending January 9 (on a non-SA basis). New PUA claims increased by 123,000 to 284,000 last week, but this was in part because states were able to process more PUA claims after the stimulus was passed. Seasonally-adjusted claims for state benefits were also up 181,000 to 965,000 last week, even though typical seasonal factors like the ending of temporary holiday retail jobs make this series less reliable than in the past.

Labor market data is flashing red warning signs for policymakers that the recovery is being battered by the unabated pandemic. The BLS report last Friday showed a surprising drop of 140,000 jobs. The details of increasing claims today correspond with that jobs report, as Texas, Georgia, and Virginia reported large numbers of new claims in accommodations and food services.

Moreover, today’s report underscores the continued, urgent need for federal policies that help the unemployed. There were 11.6 million workers (in line with our prediction of 12 million workers) that would have seen their pandemic benefits cut off after December 26 if Congress had not enacted the stimulus bill. With the CARES Act rapidly expiring, pandemic benefit counts kept sliding down in December, with PUA down 940,000 in the last week of December and by 1.8 million over the month, and with PEUC down 325,000 during the week of 12/26 and by 627,000 over the month. All of these workers will be in a position to continue receiving aid, including a $300 per week extension, once states are able to get through the hurdles of restarting and adjusting their programs to the new law.

While these benefits have just been extended, jobless families will soon be set to hurdle over another benefits cliff. Congress needs to act quickly as the CAUW only provides another 11 weeks of supplemental and extended benefits. The U.S. just won’t be able to ramp up the rehiring of the 17.47 million workers now relying on benefits until we greatly advance the fight against COVID. Reports are that the Biden administration is set to propose continuing the CAUW program until September, and that Senator Wyden is committed to including automatic triggers linked to empirical economic conditions. These are great signs that the new Congress may finally be ready to finish the job for those displaced by the pandemic.