This statement was published in response to the November 19, 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 on unemployment claims highlights the high stakes facing unemployed workers as the nation barrels towards a huge benefit cliff at the end of the year. This week, 13.4 million workers filed claims for one of the federal unemployment programs supported by the CARES Act, PUA or PEUC—benefits that are set to immediately expire on December 26 without Congressional action. This underscores the grim forecast released by The Century Foundation yesterday that 12 million workers will still be eligible for these benefits and be summarily cut off from CARES Act benefits on the day after Christmas.

As the nation slogs through the eighth month of the pandemic, jobless workers are increasingly relying on these federal benefits, as opposed to state aid. The number of workers filing ongoing claims for state benefits dropped again last week, down to 6.1 million for the week ending November 7, and have fallen by 6.4 million since the beginning of September. Although some workers have been called back to work, the real untold story in the drop in state claims is workers exhausting benefits: 3 million in September and as many as 4 million in October. Federal benefits have taken up some of the slack. In the week ending November 14, federal PEUC benefits covered a record 4.4 million workers (up 234,000 from last week, and by 2.7 million since the beginning of September), and this total still does not include substantial payments in Florida and Georgia that have not been reported to the US Department of Labor.

In contrast to state benefits, federal PUA benefits have remained relatively steady, with 8.7 million claims for continued benefits in the week ending November 7th, down just 750,000 from the week before and 2.8 million from the beginning of September. One key reason is that PUA covers those caregivers who can’t work because their schools are closed due to COVID-19, a problem that is not going away.

Expiration of jobless benefits is not the only economic challenge that Congress must confront. New unemployment claims continue to stubbornly stay at over 1 million per week (743,500 state and 320,000 PUA claims), reflecting layoffs due to the pandemic and resulting economic shifts at companies like Disney, Exxon Mobil, and National Instruments. The data released this morning comes before many restrictions put in place to staunch the latest wave of the pandemic, and the trend may worsen.

While the development of effective vaccines has provided a glimmer of hope, Americans relying on jobless benefits still face tremendous darkness ahead unless Congress acts. When it comes to relief, nothing is more important than providing a bridge to better times for those displaced from work by COVID-19. Failing to do so will unleash untold hardship and ultimately slow the economic recovery. We can do better.