This statement was published in response to the May 14, 2020 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.

The Labor Department reported today that the contagion of COVID-related layoffs has ebbed, yet an historic number of Americans are still dependent on both jobless benefits and recent CARES Act expansions. In the week ending May 9, three million new workers filed for state unemployment claims. While this is still far higher than at any time before the pandemic, it represents the sixth straight week of decline in new jobless claims.

The most important story in today’s data is that states continue to slog through the unbearable backlog of applications and move people onto unemployment rolls. As a result, insured unemployment climbed again to an all-time high of 22.8 million workers. This follows on the Treasury Department’s report earlier this week that unemployment programs have delivered a whopping $48 billion in aid in April alone.

Equally important, more and more states have activated critical new CARES Act benefits. The number of workers ineligible for regular state assistance but covered by Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) has surged to 3.4 million, up from 136,000 just two weeks ago. In addition to those collecting PUA as of April 25, an additional 1.8 million have filed PUA applications in the weeks ending May 2 and May 9. These include workers in the gig economy, young people and low-wage workers—all of whom are being hit especially hard by the downturn, and who will finally get benefits after weeks of waiting. However, just 79,500 workers are on new extended benefits provided by the CARES Act (PEUC) — but this number, too, will likely rise in the coming weeks.

Policymakers have a long way to go to figure out how to move these record numbers of workers back into their jobs and off unemployment. This week, Goldman Sachs predicted that unemployment could top 25 percent by the end of Q2. The biggest challenge now is the lack of clear safety guidelines and protective personal equipment (PPE) to give workers the chance to go back to work without fear. Unfortunately, many states are forcing workers to choose between uncertain and unsafe work conditions or risk losing their unemployment lifeline.

Even if safety concerns are addressed, it won’t be easy for companies to rehire in the depressed economic environment. One solution is for workers to move into short-time compensation (STC) plans, which puts them on the job part-time while paying them partial UI benefits. STC claims have jumped to 122,500 in the week ending April 25, nearly five times higher than the figure one month ago. But this won’t be enough. The fate of further economic stimulus in Congress remains deeply uncertain, and has yet to include direct rehiring proposals that could make a jobs recovery truly possible. With job losses persisting, Congress should not hesitate to deliver aid that is up to the scale of the current challenge.