This statement was published in response to the May 28, 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.
Today’s Labor Department report indicates the depths of the COVID-19 joblessness crisis that the economy must now crawl out of as the economy reopens. In the week ending May 23, another 2.1 million new claims for state unemployment benefits were filed, in addition to another 1.2 million claims for special federal pandemic unemployment. In the same week that we passed the grim milestone of 100,000 deaths due to COVID-19, we have now also passed the devastating threshold of more than 40 million unemployment claims since the crisis began.
What’s most disturbing is how many Americans remain unemployed more than two months into the crisis. The figures today reveal 21 million workers still claiming state benefits (despite a decline of 3.9 million from last week) and another 7.8 million claiming special federal pandemic unemployment aid—each of these workers has certified that they remain fully or partially unemployed. All told, that’s 18 percent of the workforce that is currently claiming unemployment. This record level of claims translates into an unemployment rate approaching 20 percent for the month of May.
Hard numbers about the percentage of workers actually getting paid unemployment has finally begun to emerge. New data from the Labor Department show the number of workers being paid benefits grew from 1.7 million in March to 10.8 million by the end of April. The percentage of all claims being paid jumped from just 14 percent by the end of March to 47.3 percent by the end of April—a big improvement, but still reflecting major delays in payments that have bedeviled state agencies and frustrated millions of workers. Treasury data paint an improving picture in May as well, as unemployment benefits paid out topped $70 billion in the first three weeks of the month, compared to $48 billion for the entire month of April.
The major increase in payouts, in particular, demonstrates the powerful economic impact of the $600 per week increase in benefits, Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which has become a lightning rod of controversy over whether increased unemployment benefit payouts might conflict with rehiring and reopening. But the reality from coast to coast is that the job market has not made a big comeback, and that the enhanced unemployment aid is one of the most important fiscal boosts that the federal government can provide to families and the economy.
After several days of talking tough about ending federal unemployment aid on July 31st, Senate Republicans and the White House appear interested in finding a way to make a deal to keep additional federal dollars flowing. Today’s data reveal once again how important it is for Congress to do the work now to come to agreement on a new COVID-19 relief package and not leave families and the economy teetering on the edge as the July 31 deadline approaches.