This statement was published in response to the June 3, 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 comes as four million workers stare down at the unexpected and rapid end to the lifeline of pandemic unemployment aid. As of the week ending May 15, there were 15.4 million workers collecting unemployment benefits. More than one in four of these workers reside in one of the 25 states (most recently, Maryland) that will start eliminating federal aid as soon as one week from this Monday. All but four of these states (Arizona, Alaska, Ohio and Florida) will end all the pandemic programs, including PUA, PEUC and the $300 FPUC.
The faux panic around supposedly overly generous unemployment benefits tends to center on the rate of (re-)hiring in the economy. But the fact is that the hiring situation has continued to steadily improve, along with the economy, independent of any changes to unemployment benefits. For example, in Montana, the first state to announce that it would reject federal unemployment aid, people were already moving off the jobless rolls. In fact, in the four weeks since Gov. Gianforte started this disturbing trend, continued claims for UI benefits in Republican-led states have fallen by nearly 10 percent—a sign that temporary unemployment aid is working, and helping workers search for and find the right job match.
Other data in today’s report demonstrate the same positive downward trend. Nationally, new claims for benefits have nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels, as there were 501,000 workers filing new claims for benefits last week NSA (425,000 state and 76,000 federal), down 11,000. Similarly, ongoing claims for PUA benefits are trending downward, as the impact of the virus on the labor market abates. There were 6.4 million workers reported on PUA in today’s report (down 147,000 over the week), which is down 25 percent from the peak earlier this year of 8.4 million.
In the recent unemployment data we clearly see the slow yet steady progress with which workers are exiting benefits and returning to or searching for work. In advance of Friday’s important jobs report, we must recognize that this economic progress (which will undoubtedly have more ups and downs) is happening in part because of—not in spite of—unemployment aid. Still, there are numerous headwinds facing the U.S. recovery, including the low wages of service jobs, continued child care and schooling shortages, and lingering anxiety over workplace safety. It is going to take time for these forces to unwind and for the job market to fully recover.
Senator Wyden has called on Congress to fix the loophole that allowed states to back out of this fully federally funded program, and other members and the Biden administration should heed his advice and act quickly to sustain our unemployed workforce.