This statement was published in response to the September 10, 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.

Congress returned to Washington this week and made criminally little progress towards an agreement on a pandemic relief package to supplement scant federal and state unemployment checks, which another 1.7 million workers newly applied for last week. Just as the rate of new infections appears to have plateaued, so too does pandemic induced unemployment, as initial jobless claims have held steady at between 1.3 and 1.7 million for the past month—an unthinkably high level just months ago. While seasonally adjusted claims were unchanged last week, new claims for regular and pandemic unemployment benefits indicated ongoing weakness in the job market, rising by 20,000 and 91,000, respectively.

Ongoing claims continue to paint a dire picture of how far the jobs recovery has to go. As of last week, there were still a total of 29.2 million ongoing claims for unemployment, including 13.2 million workers on state benefits, 14.6 million on PUA, and a record high 1.4 million on PEUC. State continuing claims are likely to decline over the next month as workers first laid off in March reach the end of their six months of benefits. With just 1.4 million jobs added to the economy in the month of August, it will take months if not years for the economy to return to a place where continued claims sink back to pre-pandemic levels of less than 2 million per week.

And yet, jobless workers won’t have the lifeline of supplemental federal unemployment benefits as they endure long waits to be called back to work or find a new position while job searching and employment prospects continue to be hampered by the pandemic. It’s now been six weeks since Congress allowed the $600 weekly boost to expire, and jobless workers have been left with the insufficient Lost Wage Assistance program paid out from FEMA’s limited coffers. Our updated analysis (see Table 1a on TCF’s data dashboard), finds that:

  • Only 17 states have paid out benefits thus far;
  • LWA has paid out nearly $59 billion less in aid than would have been delivered under the HEROES Act;
  • Tardy LWA payouts amount to only 13.5% of what would have been paid out if Congress had reauthorized PUC.

Indeed, LWA is already starting to run out in the 17 states that have managed to get payments out the door, and the deadlock in Congress will mean workers will soon have to manage on underlying benefits that average less than $300 per week. Especially for families forced to live on unemployment benefits alone, the decision to allow pandemic aid to expire is unconscionable. Providing expanded aid is just as necessary as requiring masks and social distancing as the nation charts its way out of a pandemic crisis that is far from over.