This statement was published in response to the May 27, 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 week of intensifying debate over the future of federal unemployment programs. As of now, there are 15.7 million workers continuing to claim unemployment benefits, roughly eight times the level pre-pandemic. These numbers will soon fall sharply, as nearly half of states (24) have unilaterally decided to force an early end to federal unemployment benefits that had been scheduled to continue until September 6 (cut-offs will begin June 12). Once these cuts are fully implemented, 1 in 4 workers currently on unemployment assistance will lose $300 per week, and more than two million will be completely cut off of aid. All together, 4.1 million workers will lose assistance to the tune of $23.3 billion in lost benefits.
These actions, which originate from false claims proffered by conservatives that unemployment benefits are hindering the recovery, come as the economy is steadily improving. Last week, the number of new claims for unemployment plummeted to just 514,000 (down 35,000), after having topped one million per week for nearly a year.
There is no evidence that the $300 per week federal supplement is keeping workers from returning to work. Continued claims for state benefits, all of which receive the weekly supplement, have plummeted from 5.7 million at the start of the year to 3.5 million (a 38 percent decrease). By comparison, workers receiving federal PUA and PEUC benefits have also received the $300 weekly boost, but these programs have only seen a combined decline of 16 percent since the beginning of the year, to 11.7 million (6.5 million on PUA and 5.2 million on PEUC). The difference is not due to the $300, but rather the challenges these workers face, such as the lack of child care and long-term unemployment.
With Florida and Nebraska joining the list of states refusing federal aid, we essentially have a bifurcated and unequal system in which half of states recognize the need to maintain aid until more of the 8 million jobs still missing return, while half have decided to cement the inequality between those who have been forced out of work and those who have not. It is essential for Congress to take President Biden up on his pledge to fix the unemployment program by requiring states to provide adequate benefits, support for gig workers, and extended benefits when economic conditions demand them.