This statement was published in response to the May 21, 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 released new data on unemployment claims today demonstrating the continued dependence of families and the economy on jobless benefits. In the week ending May 15, another 2.4 million new laid off workers reached for financial assistance, bringing the total UI claims since the start of the COVID-19 crisis to 38.6 million.
With economic activity still largely seized and Americans unable to go back to or find work, the unemployment rolls have swelled to a record 31.2 million—25.1 million in the regular state unemployment insurance program and another 6.1 million in the special Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program that covers the self-employed, students, and others not normally eligible for UI benefits. The data show that the number of workers in the CARES Act’s PUA program is surging—nearly doubling between April 25 and May 2, with another 3 million workers on the way to receiving help. This week’s data indicate that 27 states were paying out these PUA benefits by May 2, up from 23 states the week before.
While the insured unemployment totals indicate that there are still millions of individuals who have applied for unemployment benefits and are awaiting aid, there is finally evidence that help is being delivered on a larger scale. Treasury Department data reported separately show that $48 billion in aid was delivered in the first two weeks of May alone—as much as was paid in the entire month of April. This translates into an average of approximately 25 million weekly payments for the first two weeks of May, which surely includes millions of retroactive payments issued as states caught up on the mountainous backlog. These increased payouts are testament to the tenacity of jobless workers and the dedication of state employees seeking to deliver help through an overburdened and outdated system.
While new claims have leveled out—and have now declined for seven straight weeks— they remain at extremely high levels even as the majority of states begin to re-open. Among the 35 states that have begun to open their economies statewide, initial claims only declined by 14 percent last week from the prior week. And, clearly, reopening the economy does not necessarily equate with robust rehiring: among those 35 states, nine actually saw an increase in the number of new workers claiming benefits, including Florida, which added almost 1 million new claims.
The House voted last Friday to extend the crucial aid in the CARES Act beyond the original July 31st deadline. But President Trump and Senate Republicans have yet to demonstrate any urgency when it comes to continuing the additional $600 per week that workers across the country are depending on to minimize the financial damage of COVID-19. As Congress debates a Phase 4 relief package, bolstering unemployment benefits needs to be at the top of the list of priorities.