This statement was published in response to the March 4, 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 Congress is finalizing pivotal details of the American Rescue Plan that will determine the fate of those who remain out of work due to the unprecedented pandemic. Data continue to show that improvements in the vaccine rollout have not translated into any meaningful slowing in new applications for unemployment, as new claims inched up again after dropping last week. Total new UI applications—including 745,000 state SA (+9,000) and 437,000 PUA (+9,000)—came in at over 1 million for the 50th consecutive week and are nearly 6 times the pre-pandemic level.
The report underscores just how far the nation is from a genuine labor market recovery. Beyond initial claims, there were 18 million workers filing ongoing claims for either state (4.8 million NSA, down 22,000) or federal benefits. Most of the recipients are now long-term unemployed who are relying on two temporary federal programs—7.3 million on PUA (down 191K) and 4.5 million on PEUC (down 600K, in large part due to continued erratic data from California, which saw a decrease of 691K in a single week). These nearly 12 million workers have already been notified that their benefits are expiring in as little as two weeks, beginning March 14, unless Congress extends them.
Recent reports, alongside today’s data, foreshadow another month of relatively slow job growth in tomorrow’s February jobs report. Clearly, it will take many months before job creation can accelerate to the point where all those currently unemployed can return to work. Unemployment benefits claims will remain extremely elevated until then.
The Senate needs to fulfill President’s Biden’s original proposal to continue unemployment aid through the end of September, not the end of August date pegged in the House passed version. An arbitrary end-date in the midst of a Congressional recess will only set up jobless workers for yet another lapse in benefits at a time when Congress won’t be in a position to act if job market conditions warrant it.