This statement was published in response to the May 20, 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 after a watershed week in the nation’s response to the pandemic unemployment crisis. On the one hand, layoffs have fallen dramatically as new claims for jobless benefits reached a pandemic low of 550,000 NSA (455,000 state and 95,000 PUA), and are now down 48 percent since the beginning of the year. On the other hand, a revolt by 22 Republican governors has set the stage for the unraveling of support for Americans still relying on unemployment aid.
There are now 22 states that have made the unprecedented decision to pull out early from the $300 pandemic unemployment benefits, money that was provided entirely by the federal government, at no cost to state coffers. Nineteen of these states, including most recently Texas and New Hampshire, have also signaled that they will end the PUA and PEUC programs. As a result, as many as 3.6 million of the 15.9 million workers currently on benefits (nearly 1 in 4 on benefits) will lose aid as early as June 12—a trend that will have significant negative impacts on families and the U.S. economy
The ostensible rationale for these punitive actions is a concern about workers’ hesitance to accept jobs. But today’s data indicates that unemployment aid is not keeping workers on the sidelines. The number of workers filing ongoing claims for state benefits has plummeted to 3.68 million NSA, down 36 percent from when the $300 was reinstated at the beginning of the year. PEUC and PUA benefits fell to their lowest levels in three months, dropping by more than two million since March 6. PUA ticked down by 678,000 to 6.6 million and PEUC dropped by 150,000 to 5.1 million—as even those workers with the greatest barriers are finding work. In other words, emergency unemployment aid is doing what it is meant to do: serving as a temporary lifeline while workers search for and return to work.
After more than a year of the pandemic, the U.S. labor market is steadily returning to normal, with programs like unemployment benefits having played a major role in preventing poverty among the jobless. But rather than allowing workers a chance to receive critical aid until jobs have more widely returned, policymakers have left the unemployed fully on their own, creating bigger gaps between the haves and have-nots.