This statement was published in response to the January 21, 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 Washington and the world wake up from the inauguration of Joe Biden as the new President, the Labor Department’s unemployment report this morning offers a sobering reminder of the continued challenges the nation faces. In the week ending January 16, 1.38 million workers filed new claims for benefits on a non seasonally adjusted basis (961,000 for state and 424,000 for PUA). While new claims for state benefits were down slightly last week on both a seasonally (-151,000) and not seasonally adjusted basis (-26,000), they have defied usual seasonal patterns and are up 10 percent over last month.

Similarly, while the number of continued claims for state benefits tipped down last week (-204,000 NSA), the number of workers receiving state benefits is still higher than it was after a long downward trend through November. Taken together, the data on continued state claims confirms that there was a boomlet of pandemic-induced layoffs in December that is adding new strains on the economy and the unemployment system.

When it comes to the long-term unemployed, today’s report shows significant delays in the delivery of federal pandemic benefits. Since then-President Trump waited until after Christmas to sign the end-of-year COVID relief bill, states were forced to interrupt PUA and PEUC benefits. Thus today’s data badly underestimates the total number of long-term unemployed workers, as only 8.73 million workers were reported on these two benefit programs (5.71 million on PUA and 3.03 million on PEUC), down from 11.6 million at the end of 2020. The process of restarting payments in these two benefit programs have extended far deeper into the month, with states announcing delays that mean PEUC and PUA benefits may not reach workers until the end of January.

These difficulties must not be repeated when the current very short extension of jobless benefits starts to expire on March 14. To his credit, President Biden has proposed extending jobless aid through at least September 2021, as well as tying the end of aid to economic and public health triggers. Congress must join the President’s call for action and deliver extended benefits before these programs once again lapse. Workers and state agencies should not be burdened with the travails of starting and stopping lifesaving aid amid unprecedented crises and financial hardship.