This statement was published in response to the March 18, 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 marks the grim one-year anniversary of the COVID jobless crisis, coming 52 weeks after UI claims jumped to a staggering 2.9 million on March 21, 2020. That makes 52 straight weeks that DOL has reported that more than 1 million workers filed initial applications for unemployment benefits (including an additional 746,000 state claims and 283,000 PUA initial claims last week). In total, a staggering 105 million new weekly claims have been made for either regular state or PUA benefits during the pandemic.

As documented in a new analysis released today by The Century Foundation, today’s report is a capstone on a year of unprecedented labor market challenges. Our research finds:

  • 46 million workers have received at least one unemployment payment, equivalent to 1 in 4 of all American workers.
  • Despite major challenges, states have delivered more than 1 billion weekly unemployment payments over the past year, smashing the 400 million mark during the worst period of the financial crisis.
  • This aid has translated into $637 billion in payments between the various benefits programs: PUA, state, PEUC, and EB.

The pandemic unemployment crisis shows no signs of quickly abating as it enters into its second year. In the week ending March 13, there were 18 million workers still on unemployment aid, down from the peak of 32.5 million last June, but still nearly twice as high as the peak during the Great Recession (11.6 million in January 2010). This includes 4.5 million on state benefits (down 261,000) and 1.1 million on EB (down 216,000).

As of last Saturday there were 7.6 million workers on PUA (down 773,000 last week) and 4.8 million on PEUC (down 641,000 last week)—all of whom would have faced a cut-off in benefits had Congress not passed the American Rescue Plan. While the Labor Department has warned that not all of the benefits in the relief package will be implemented until mid-April, delays are expected to be more limited than in December, given the details of the plan and the nature of the cut-off.

Even in the best scenario of rapid economic growth that was forecast by the Federal Reserve this week, it will take many months for businesses to reopen and rehire the legions still on jobless rolls. Senator Schumer promised jobless workers an historic increase in unemployment benefits to meet the challenge of pandemic—and workers have needed, and continue to need, every bit of it to get by.