This statement was published in response to the September 3, 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 Department of Labor report marks the fifth week since more than 25 million unemployed Americans were cut off from the $600 weekly federal unemployment supplement. Meanwhile, the nation remains months or even years away from digging out from our jobs hole, as the absence of fiscal stimulus for state and local governments, small businesses, and households stymies recovery efforts. Just last week, 833,000 individuals applied to receive regular UI benefits, and 759,000 more applied for PUA (both non-seasonally adjusted).

Meanwhile, 28 million more are receiving ongoing claims, including 13.1 million on state benefits, a whopping 13.6 million on PUA, and 1.4 million on PEUC for the long-term unemployed. In sum, there are nearly 30 million Americans currently or soon-to-be receiving unemployment insurance benefits, roughly 1 out of every 5 people in the workforce. Today’s claims data stand in stark contrast to the slightly declined unemployment rate that will likely be reported by the BLS tomorrow morning, underscoring the inadequacy of that measure to capture the scope of the ongoing unemployment crisis.

This week’s report reflects a change in the method by which the DOL “seasonally adjusts” the data, and prior seasonally-adjusted (SA) figures will not be retroactively modified to align with this new method. As such, we cannot compare this week’s SA numbers to previous weeks, since doing so would be an apples-to-oranges comparison. While some may misleadingly report that seasonally adjusted initial claims dropped by 130,000 this week, the number of non-seasonally adjusted claims actually increased by 8,000. The most important figure in the report is the number of people collecting state benefits on a continued basis, which is only down 43 percent from its pandemic peak, but still more than two times higher than the pre-pandemic record.

Today’s figures come as the Trump administration’s Lost Wages Assistance program struggles to make up for the cut in PUC benefits. A new TCF analysis, released today (see Table 5 on TCF’s data dashboard), compares LWA with what would have been dispersed if Congress had passed the HEROES Act nearly three months ago, and finds:

  • As of Wednesday, only seven states have paid LWA (Arizona, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Tennessee, and Texas), representing approximately 15 percent of all unemployed workers.
  • 32 other states have not yet initiated payments, but have had grants awarded by FEMA, and 11 states have not yet been awarded grants.
  • We estimate that only $3.85 billion has been paid out through LWA (assuming that all states that have begun payments have provided four weeks of back-pay).
  • We estimate that the payments disbursed through LWA so far amount to just 5.6 percent of what would have been paid out through the HEROES Act ($68 billion).

These new benefits have added a convoluted new program to already overburdened state governments, a harsh waiting game for millions of unemployed Americans, and a blow to FEMA’s budget during one of the most intense storm seasons to date.